A construction crew working on asbestos-based sealing panels on the roof of a high school in Long Island, New York, lifted a cloud of white debris when workers neglected to damp down, and contain the potentially unsafe fibers so as to preclude them from becoming airborne, according to a report from a state worker safety inspector.
The New York State Department of Labor has issued five worker safety citations to a contracting firm based in New Jersey for failing to follow proper asbestos removal procedures as a function of a refurbishment job on the school building at Roosevelt High School. Thus far, the project has generated complaints from faculty and students of a downpour of harmful debris, which the school district claimed was Styrofoam being taken out of the roof sections.
The safety inspector issued the citations just days before the start of the academic year when he observed a "plume of white dust" emerging from the top of the building. The inspector also noted that at least three workers on the roof did not have the respirators and breathing filters that the state requires they wear during asbestos removal projects.
Karen Williamson, a spokesperson for the Department of Labor, said that another inspector visited the school last week. The second visit was a result of continued complaints from teachers and other staff members at the school about the possible hazards involved in the ongoing work. Ms. Williamson acknowledged the seriousness of the infractions, which also prompted her office to start a new investigation into the problems.
David Weiser, an assistant superintendent for the school district, responded that the "white dust" the inspector saw was not a highly dangerous cloud of asbestos fibers, but Styrofoam insulation left over from a previous contractor. He also said that the district conducted quality testing on the air circulating throughout the school, which resulted in finding no traces of asbestos. Mr. Weiser also mentioned that his office sent letters to concerned parents informing them of the results and ordered work crews to clean up any debris.
Superior Abatement, Inc., based in West Caldwell, New Jersey, carried out the asbestos removal portion of the project to renovate the fifty-four-year-old structure. The company started the project on September 3 and finished three weeks later. When the company's owner, Nicholas Petrovski, found out about the citations for safety infractions the day after work on the project started, he dismissed the crew who had worked on the roof during the inspection and hired a new crew a few days later.
The day that Mr. Petrovski hired the new asbestos abatement crew was also the day that classes at Roosevelt resumed for the new school year. School district officials and Mr. Petrovski both agreed that asbestos disposal work would only occur after the end of the school day in order to minimize the impact on students and teachers.
In a related incident, officials at a nearby elementary school admitted that they failed to check the credentials of another contracting firm that had been hired to remove asbestos. New York state law requires that asbestos cleanup firms carry a license from the state labor department; the firm hired to clean out asbestos-laced crawl spaces under the Rushmore Elementary School did not have such a license. Superintendent Michael Mahoney admitted to the error and sent letters to parents telling them that no asbestos contamination had been found in the school's airways or ventilation systems.