New Rochelle School District Fined, Issued Violations Following New York State Investigation into Asbestos Exposure Incident at Davis School, Contractor Cited for Forged License

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NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The New York State Department of Labor, Division of Safety and Health, Asbestos Control Bureau has assessed a $6,500 fine against the City School District of New Rochelle and issued a notice of violation against the District and two District employees for handling asbestos without a license following an investigation at the George M. Davis Jr. in New Rochelle, NY.

Based on records obtained through a Freedom of Information request, Talk of the Sound has learned that two district employees — Sal Poretto and Tony Sinkfield — were found to have disturbed asbestos and are named in the violation notice along with the District itself.

FL-14-0490 Records for Release

Sal Poretto, who retired in December, was an Assistant Grounds foreman working under Vincent James “Jimmy” Bonanno who, in turn, reports to John Gallagher, an outside contractor employed by Aramark. Gallagher carries the District title of Director of Environmental Services. Tony Sinkfield is the Head Custodian at Davis Elementary School and reports up to Gallagher as well.

Two contractors, G.R.W. Plumbing and Edgar Montalvo dba Maki Group LLC, were also issued violations. G.R.W. Plumbing was issued notices of violation for being unlicensed to disturb asbestos and a violation notice for uncertified asbestos workers. Edgar Montalvo dba Maki Group LLC, the subcontractor that performed asbestos abatement work at the school was unlicensed but presented a license to CNS Management, the district’s asbestos management firm. Montalvo later admitted to state investigators that the license was forged. Montalvo was issued a violation for being unlicensed to disturb asbestos although his workers were licensed, according to CNS Management.

The District has been put on notice that any future involvement in any asbestos project without a valid license and/or certification could result in other violations and a larger penalty. Such involvement may also be referred to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for investigation and possible criminal proceedings.

The Notice of Violation including the $6,500 fine was issued on August 28, 2013. On April 23, 2014, the New York State Department of Labor sent a Demand Letter to the City School District of New Rochelle for non-payment of the fine. The District was put on notice that it had 90 days to make payment or the matter would be referred to the New York State Attorney.

New Rochelle Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne did not respond to an email seeking comment. Neither the School District or Department of Labor have replied when asked whether the District had paid the $6,500 fine.

The investigation was launched in response to a series of articles by Talk of the Sound on an asbestos exposure incident at the school last summer.

In July, 2013, G.R.W. Plumbing was hired by the District to remove carpeting and lay down tiles at Davis School in the main office and principal’s office.

G.R.W. Plumbing employees began the work in the office of then-incoming Principal Michael Galland by removing the carpeting on Tuesday July 16th. The workers pulled back the carpeting in Galland's office and discovered what they believed to be asbestos tiles stuck to the carpeting and on the floor. The work stopped. One of the workers called George Wood of G.R.W. Plumbing who, in turn called Gallagher, sources say. Gallagher instructed Wood to proceed with the work despite the “presumed” presence of asbestos.

Once removed, the tiles were placed in heavy plastic bags and the carpeting with attached tiles loaded onto a dolly.

The following day, on Wednesday July 17th, G.R.W. Plumbing employees began work in the main office, adjoining the principal’s office.

Mike Nolan, a Vice President and Training Director at CNS Management located in Plainview, NY, described to Talk of the Sound what happened next.

Nolan said that CNS Management, which has been doing asbestos related work for in the City School District of New Rochelle for 17 years, was in the midst of the District’s tri-annual AHERA inspections.

The federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), requires public and non-profit private schools to inspect their schools for asbestos-containing building material, prepare management plans and to take action to prevent or reduce asbestos hazards. As part of that, school districts must perform an original inspection to determine whether asbestos-containing materials are present and then re-inspect asbestos-containing material in each school every three years.

Under the law, the District must maintain records created during the AHERA inspections as part of the Asbestos Management Plan which describes the location of any asbestos-containing building material, and the type of asbestos-containing material along with a blueprint that clearly identifies the location of asbestos-containing building materials that remains in the school.

Nolan, who oversaw past AHERA inspections, told investigators that the offices at Davis School were listed as “presumed to contain asbestos” in the Asbestos Management Plan.

Purely by coincidence, Nolan says, one of the CNS Management inspectors was in the offices at Davis School where G.R.W. Plumbing were working.

Nolan says his inspector came upon G.R.W. Plumbing employees ripping up asbestos tiles in the main office at Davis School. Nolan says his inspector ordered them to stop work immediately. Gallagher was contacted and informed of the presence of asbestos tiles.

Unbeknownst to Nolan, Gallagher made two breathless phone calls to cover his tracks.

Poretto told state investigators that he received an anxious call to get up to Davis School with a garbage truck and remove the carpeting. Poretto said that he loaded the carpeting with attached tiles onto the garbage truck and took the materials to a waste transfer facility in Mount Vernon, NY.

The transfer and disposal of asbestos materials in this manner is a violation of state and federal law.

Sinkfield received a similar call from Gallagher instructing him to hide the bags with the tiles in a closet which, he says, he did.

Neither Poretto and Sinkfield are licensed to handle asbestos materials.

Gallagher then authorized Nolan to hire Edgar Montalvo. Nolan says that Montalvo had done some work for him in New York City as part of the clean up after Hurricane Sandy and had previously expressed interest to get into asbestos abatement work. Nolan selected Montalvo because he was non-union, and thus cheaper, as a way to save the District some money.

In a phone call today, Nolan expressed frustration at having been dragged into a state asbestos investigation by “dumb luck”.

"My guy ran into the flooring guys,” said Nolan, "one hour earlier or one hour later we would have missed them."

“I’ve had 50 phone calls with New York State Department of Labor, New York State Department of Health, Westchester County Department of Health, the City School District of New Rochelle and the Department of Labor investigators,” said Nolan.

“The whole thing rests with George Wood,” said Nolan, noting that if G.R.W. Plumbing employees had not ripped up the asbestos tile he would not have hired Edgar Montalvo for the job.

George Wood, the owner of G.R.W. Plumbing, who has since been banned as a contractor by the District.

Nolan says that as far he knows, he still has a good working relationship with the City School District of New Rochelle.

Nolan admitted that under AHERA it was Gallagher’s responsibility to check the Asbestos Management Plan before assigning G.R.W. Plumbing to work on the floors in the two Davis School offices, that the Asbestos Management Plan did indicate the “presumed” presence of asbestos and that Gallagher was thus required under federal and state law to hire a certified asbestos contractor to abate the offices before work on the floor was begun.

Nolan says that at the time he was not told that tiles had been removed in the principal’s office off the main office and only learned of that work after the investigation had begun.

There are no records indicating that a licensed asbestos abatement firm was hired to abate the principal’s office on July 16th. The building was not evacuated while work was done on July 16th or July 17th nor was the effected area sealed off.

Despite this, when contacted on July 30, 2013, New York State Department of Education spokesperson Antonia Valentine issued the following statement.

"School officials have informed us that they had proper manifests on the removal and appropriate air monitoring was performed by an independent third party”.

The DOL investigation shows this to have been a false and misleading statement and raises questions as to which “school officials” were contacted by the SED.

New York State Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment on the results of the investigation.

The narrative section of the report by the investigator for the New York State Department of Labor, Division of Safety and Health, Asbestos Control Bureau reads as follows:

A site inspection was made and 2 secretaries were interviewed at the main office. Also interviewed was Head Custodian Tony Sinkfield. I was told that several days ago the area behind the counter of the main office was abated by licensed asbestos contractors. Tony Sinkfield briefly described the area being sealed off with plastic sheeting. Currently there are new 12"x12'’ floor tiles in place. I left phone messages for project overseer John Gallagher of the New Rochelle School District to provide detailed information as to the emergency abatement project performed.

Although he did not directly return my phone call he did have his licensed asbestos project monitor Mike Nolan of CNS Management, call me to provide information. Mr. Nolan Informed me that a company called Maki Group LLC had abated the room over the previous 7-20 weekend and that the abatement area was quantified by CNS Management as a "small-sized 145 square foot abatement and decontamination of floor tile". I asked him to provide documentation regarding the project. He promised to submit documents to the department.

He stated that the carpeting had been pulled up by the plumbing contractor who is incorporated as G.R.W. Plumbing & Heating Inc. His employee initially informed him that a limited row of tiles came up attached to the back of the carpet.

I checked on the status of the abatement firm and district supervisor Norma Aird informed me that she could not locate the license based on the provided information: including the spelling and license number. The license number presented was, in fact, issued to another unrelated firm. Mr. Nolan promised to submit a copy of the license to the department: which he says the abatement contractor gave him. I informed him that there seems to be a problem with the validity of the selected abatement contractor. Mr. Nolan stated that he worked with the contractor on previous jobs and took the documentation submitted to him as proof that they were in fact licensed to perform asbestos abatement. He promised to have the abatement contractor call Ms. Aird and, according to Ms. Aird he acknowledged that he is not licensed and that the license presented was not valid (ie a forgery). I spoke with Mike Nolan on 8-2 at 9:00 a.m. and he told me that he has informed the client of the situation regarding the abatement contractor's unlicensed status.

Both the plumbing contractor and Edgar Montalvo dba Maki Group LLC are being issued notices of violation for being unlicensed to disturb asbestos.

G.R.W. Plumbing is also being issued a violation notice for uncertified asbestos workers.

According to Mike Nolan his inspector had not observed any floor tiles or tile debris inside the principal's office or other areas adjacent to the main office. He asked the laborers if there had been any tiles beneath the removed carpeting and they told him that they had not seen any. The floor was allegedly a bare concrete floor and the cleanup was limited to the main office area where, plausibly, less than 160 square feet of area exists for an abatement cleanup. Air sampling was performed at that time to clear the area.

Later in the week I spoke by phone with a man who identified himself as Sal Poretto, the Assistant Grounds foreman. According to Poretto, he was on site on 7-17 to perform routine removal of garbage from the school. During the course of his duties, he encountered a dolly left in a corridor. A rug was left on the dolly and pieces of tile were found to be still glued to the back of the rug. Poretto also claims that a portion of the tile material had delaminated onto the floor as well.

He said that he contacted John Gallagher Head of Environmental Services about the carpet and asked him whether he should remove it to his waste truck. Poretto said he was unaware whether or not Mr. Gallagher knew of the presence of asbestos at that point. Nevertheless, Poretto was instructed to remove the rug and brought it to his waste truck for disposal. Upon becoming suspicious that there may have been asbestos floor tile he returned to the corridor and collected 2 samples of debris. The 2nd tile sample he collected from a bag which had been left in a closet just outside the office. He contacted his union representative and apparently the representative arrived at the school and collected a bulk sample of disturbed floor tile as well. Poretto thinks that the union sample came from a bag left in the same closet. According to Poretto the samples were collected and held onto until a meeting with school district representatives took place on 8-2.

The samples were provided to Assistant Superintendent of Business John Quinn: who, in turn, forwarded these to an accredited laboratory in NYC. Samples returned positive for asbestos and the school district reps and I informed Mr. Nolan that the scope of cleanup may have been incomplete based on a likelihood that the principal's office had asbestos tiles which were already picked up by G.R.W. Plumbing & Heating, Inc. Mr. Nolan was directed to check the school's asbestos inspection report records to determine if the principal's office had asbestos floor tiles. He later called me and informed me that the presence of tiles was "presumed" in the report. On 8-10 an additional cleanup of the surrounding areas was performed to address those areas which had not initially been identified as having tile removal or having tile during handling by uncertified individuals employed by the district.

On 8-21 I was able to reach school officials John Gallagher and John Quinn and discussed with them the circumstances surrounding the tile disturbances. Both men acknowledged that they understood, after the fact, that asbestos floor tiles incorrectly taken up by the unlicensed contractor and Mr. Quinn acknowledged that after interviewing some of his employees it is clear that Head Custodian Tony Sinkfield was instructed to move bags out of the way and that he moved these bagged tiles to the closet outside of the main office. Mr. Quinn states that a few persons who work for the school district have asbestos training and certification but not Sal Poretto or Tony Sinkfield. Both John Quinn and John Gallagher deny that they were aware of the bagged materials being asbestos floor tiles or that the disposed carpet had pieces of asbestos floor tiles stuck to it. I explained to them, and to Mr. Quinn, in particular, that the school district was in violation of the state's asbestos code rule when its employees moved the bagged floor tiles and the (presumed) contaminated carpet. At this time it remains uncertain as to precisely when the disturbance of asbestos floor tile was known and if school officials knew of an asbestos disturbance at the time when they directed or allowed their employees to move these materials.

The tone of the report suggests that Eric Lutzer, the investigator does not credit the accounts provided by John Quinn, former Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration, since fired by the District, and John Gallagher.

Quinn admits that Tony Sinkfield was instructed to move bags containing asbestos tiles but the report does not say who told him to move the bags. The report says that Sinkfield told investigators Gallagher told him to move the bags.

Lutzer does conclude that G.R.W. Plumbing employees lied to the CNS Management inspector when they claimed the floor in the principal’s office was a bare concrete floor, that the cleanup was limited to the main office area and that they had not seen any tiles beneath the removed carpeting.

Poretto’ account of events to the state investigator varies from what he told school officials last year. Poretto had previously stated that Gallagher called him and told him to get the carpet out of the building immediately but in the state investigator’s report Poretto is reported to have said that he encountered the carpet as part of his routine removal of garbage from the school. Poretto previosly stated that Gallagher contacted him about the carpet but the state investigator report has Poretto saying that he contacted Gallagher.

The state investigator’s report concludes with doubt: he is still not certain when Quinn and Gallagher first became aware of an asbestos disturbance at the school and when they directed or allowed their employees to move these materials.

With a more complete set of facts, it is now possible to go back and evaluate the timeline statement made by Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak at the New Rochelle Board of Education Meeting on August 6, 2013.

Timeline

On Tuesday July 16, 2013, an outside contractor began removing carpet and floor tile from the Principal’s Office at Davis Elementary School. Summer school was in session on the morning of July 16; however, there was limited access to the work area throughout the day.

FALSE - the DOL investigation says there was no restrictions on access to the area.

On Wednesday July 17, 2013, the carpet and floor tile were removed from the building.

TRUE - based on our reporting, from multiple sources and records, we believe this statement to be accurate.

The contractor raised concerns about the floor tiles, specifically that they might contain asbestos. Consequently, work that had been scheduled to take place on July 18 and 19 was halted.

FALSE - the “contractor” was G.R.W. Plumbing which not only did not raise concerns that floor tiles might contain asbestos but lied to a CNS Management inspector. It was a complete happenstance that the CNS Management inspector encountered G.R.W. Plumbing employees ripping up asbestos tiles in the main office at Davis School, the same employees who then lied about ripping up tiles in the principal’s office, were determined to have disturbed asbestos without a license while working for a company not licensed to disturb asbestos.

On Saturday, July 20, 2013, work continued at Davis Elementary School in the Main Office, using asbestos abatement procedures.

FALSE - the first procedure of asbestos abatement is to hire a licensed asbestos abatement firm. The company hired by the district, Edgar Montalvo dba Maki Group LLC, was not a licensed asbestos abatement contractor and was later found to be using a forged license based on a license number from a different, unrelated company.

At the same time, air-quality testing was conducted in the Main Office, the Principal’s Office, and in the adjacent hallways.

TRUE - based on our reporting, from multiple sources and records, we believe this statement to be accurate.

Results from the air-quality testing came back within the normal range.

TRUE - based on our reporting, from multiple sources and records, we believe this statement to be accurate.

All work was completed at Davis Elementary School by Sunday July 21, 2013.

FALSE/MISLEADING - additional work was ordered after the tile tests came back “positive” for asbestos on 8/2, this was known at the time the timeline was presented on 8/6 although the work was not done until 8/10.

During the week of July 22, the New York State Education Department contacted the district about the work done at Davis. The district provided them with information related to the abatement, air-quality test results and documentation from the contractors who handled these procedures and tests.

FALSE/MISLEADING - The New York State Education Department contacted the district after a call from Talk of the Sound seeking information about an asbestos exposure incident at Davis School on July 16-17, The District failed to inform them of what took place on July 16-17, primarily in the principal’s office and instead provided them information about work that took place in the main office on July 19-20. This was a deliberate attempt to deceive the SED by John Gallagher or John Quinn or both.

On July 31, acting upon a request for information sent via e-mail, the district conducted a review of the work done at Davis with the staff who were knowledgeable about what had taken place.

TRUE - the email was sent by Talk of the Sound to John Quinn.

Based on information from those meetings, samples of the removed floor tiles from the Principal’s Office on July 16 were sent for analysis on August 2.

TRUE - based on our reporting, from multiple sources and records, we believe this statement to be accurate.

Today, August 5, 2013, the district received the results of this testing. It was determined that the floor tile, which is non-friable and non-fibrous, did contain Chrysotile, a form of asbestos.

TRUE - based on our reporting, from multiple sources and records, we believe this statement to be accurate.

The district’s Medical Director, Dr. Adrienne Weiss-Harrison, discussed the results with Environmental Health staff at the Westchester County Department of Health (WCDOH).

TRUE - based on our reporting, from multiple sources and records, we believe this statement to be accurate.

They informed Dr. Weiss that they do not consider this incident to have resulted in an exposure to asbestos.

FALSE - WCDOH never said this and later forced the District, under the threat of legal action, to retract this statement, further WCDOH has no role to play in evaluating asbestos exposure incidents, they are handled by the New York State Department of Labor and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, as well as, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Therefore, no adverse health consequences are expected.

FALSE - WCDOH never said this and later forced the District, under the threat of legal action, to retract this statement, further the District sent workers that may have come in contact with the tiles to Mt. Sinai for observation for possible asbestos exposure.

Parents of students and staff who were in the building on July 16th and 17th will be contacted by mail.

FALSE/MISLEADING - There is no record that such contact was made and no parent has self-identified as having received such mail. Parents and guardians with children enrolled in Davis School not the summer program did receive a robo-call and email of this timeline which is inaccurate and often deceptively so.

Air-Quality Testing Results. The Department of Health shared with Dr. Weiss that they would not expect test results to be within the normal limits if asbestos fibers had been released within the previous several days. Therefore, WCDOH staff informed the district that they do not consider the work done on the floor in the Principal’s Office at Davis School to have resulted in asbestos exposure to individuals who were in the building.

FALSE - WCDOH never said this and later forced the District, under the threat of legal action, to retract this statement, further, WCDOH has no role to play in evaluating asbestos exposure incidents.

Information about Asbestos. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, most schools in the U.S. have asbestos-containing materials. There is no risk of exposure to asbestos materials which are “intact.” Soft, “friable” materials are most likely to release asbestos fibers. Harder materials, such as floor tiles, do not easily release asbestos fibers into the environment. Fibers are most likely to be released when a great deal of dust is created, as when floor tiles are ground up. This is not the technique that was employed by the contractor at Davis School.

FALSE/MISLEADING - The only people who know what “technique” was employed or how much asbestos fibers were released are the G.R.W. Employees who the State has already determined lied about removing the tiles in the first place.

What Should Parents and Staff Do? As individuals were not exposed to asbestos at Davis School, per the WCDOH, no action is required. Parents and staff are welcome to discuss this matter with their personal health practitioners and with Dr. Weiss-Harrison (Health Services Office: 914-576-4264).

FALSE/MISLEADING - WCDOH never said this and later forced the District, under the threat of legal action, to retract this statement, further, WCDOH has no role to play in evaluating asbestos exposure incidents.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Talk of the Sound will continue to report new developments in this case. We have additional FOIL requests and follow up questions out to SED and DOL. There are records referenced in the documents we have obtained that have yet to be provided. We will continue to demand answers until all questions are addressed. And a special note to the Davis School community — you were intentionally deceived by school officials, staff and contractors about a serious threat to the health and safety of your children and yet have been largely silent. I would be very interested to know why. Please feel free to email me at robertcox@talkofthesound.com to set up a call or meeting.

RELATED ARTICLES

More Trouble for Aramark in New Rochelle: Staff and Children Exposed to Asbestos at Davis Elementary School

TILES TESTS POSITIVE: Lab Tests Confirm Asbestos Exposure at New Rochelle Elementary School, Officials Duck and Cover

New Rochelle Schools Timeline on Asbestos Incident Does Not Stand Up To Scrutiny

New Rochelle School District Retracts False Claims Attributed to Westchester County Department of Health on Risks From Davis Asbestos Incident

STRIKE THREE: New Rochelle Board of Education Deletes False Statements Inaccurately Attributed to Westchester County Department of Health

SHEILA MARCOTTE: Westchester DOH Wants Retraction of Davis School "All Clear" by New Rochelle; EPA and NYS DEC Now Involved

After Telling New Rochelle Parents No Asbestos at Davis, District Sends 10 Workers to Mt. Sinai Hospital for Asbestos Testing

My Remarks to the Board of Education on September 3, 2013

New York State Investigation of Asbestos Exposure Incident at New Rochelle's Davis Elementary School Continues

New Rochelle Schools Contractor Behind Flag Pole Painting and Asbestos Exposure Low Bidder on 3 of 4 District Contracts

New Rochelle School District Bans Contractor Over Davis Asbestos Exposure Incident

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