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

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In response to our reporting of an asbestos incident at Davis Elementary School, the district sent tiles from the school to be tested at a lab. The tiles came back positive for asbestos. The district sent an email to parents and published a timeline on the district web site.

Davis asbestos web message draft (.pdf)

The timeline is misleading in many ways, false in others and does not stand up to scrutiny. It is clear that the district is not telling the truth to parents, students, staff and government agencies.

Here is my deconstruction of the timeline, parts of which were presented at the New Rochelle Board of Education Meeting on August 6, 2013

Timeline

1. On Tuesday July 16, 2013, an outside contractor began removing carpet and floor tile from the Principal’s Office at Davis Elementary School.

The contractor was George Wood Plumbing. His workers saw the tiles immediately upon starting work on 7/16 because the first thing they did was pull back the carpeting; they "knew" right away the tiles were asbestos tiles. The contractor called John Gallagher on July 16 and work continued on 7-16/17.

The law is crystal clear on this point:

a) The school is required to survey all asbestos in the building annually and keep a book containing this information in the main office. This book should have been consulted by John Gallagher before work on the two offices was even assigned to George Wood Plumbing.
b) George Wood Plumbing is a long-time contractor for the school district and a company that routinely deals with asbestos. Wood knows there is a book listing all asbestos in the building.
c) If asbestos is suspected to be present the work must be stopped immediately; if the asbestos is disturbed the area must be sealed immediately, the school should have been evacuated immediately.

None of these things were done; the failure to do them violated state and federal laws. George Wood Plumbing should be investigated by the appropriate state agencies, his plumbing license should be revoked, he should never be allowed to work in the New Rochelle School District again.

2. Summer school was in session on the morning of July 16; however, there was limited access to the work area throughout the day.

In what way was access "limited"? The timeline does not say. In fact, we know access was not limited because no effort was made to seal off the area or evacuate the school.

Asst. Supt. John Quinn did not even know about the incident until he received my 7/31 email on August 1st so he has no way to know what took place at the school on July 16 regarding the asbestos except what he is told by the people who were on the job site. As those are the same GWP employees who illegally removed the asbestos they are hardly reliable; further they were working to remove the asbestos tiles and carpet not monitoring who was walking around in the area they were working. Unless there is some video tape covering the entire period between July 16 and July 21 this is a claim without basis in fact.

School officials have no way to know who was walking around the building on July 16th or who was in the area near the office where the work was done.

Summer school runs from about 8 am until 12 pm, Monday through Friday.

My information is that children were in the area when the carpet was being moved on July 17th, more on that in a moment.

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

Here the district is admitting, by their own timeline, that the asbestos material was illegally stored in the building for 24 hours.

The carpet (with asbestos tiles stuck to it) and tiles were removed from Mr. Galland's office on the morning of Tuesday, July 16th. They were picked up by district employees Sal Poretto and John Consolo at about 11 am on Wednesday July 17th.

So what was happening with the carpet and floor tile between 11 am? It was being illegally stored in the building.

Missing from the timeline is that the carpet was removed from Mr. Galland's office at about 11 am. It was rolled up and placed in the hallway until summer school session ended around noon. This information comes from a senior source who was in the building at the time. After students were dismissed for the day, the carpet was moved to the lobby of Davis School and remained there until 11 am the following morning.

Students arrived Wednesday morning at about 8 am. They entered the lobby where the carpet had been dropped by workers the previous day. The district has no way of knowing whether any staff or students came in contact with the asbestos materials attached to the carpet.

As of August 5th, no air monitoring was done in the lobby of the building.

4. 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.

Notice how this statement is taken out of order. It is a transparent attempt at deception.

The contractor did raise concerns about the floor tiles containing asbestos but those concerns were raised on the morning of Tuesday July 16th. Their concerns were ignored. John Gallagher, the Director of Buildings and Grounds told them to continue to remove the carpet and tiles when the law (and common sense) clearly required the tiles to be tested. Work should have been stopped immediately and the area sealed off until test results came back. Knowing what we know -- that the tiles did contain asbestos -- George Wood Plumbing should have been taken off the job and replaced with a licensed asbestos contractor.

Readers should consider why John Gallagher would be so concerned that George Wood Plumbing get this job or, for that matter, why the district's plumber is doing floor work when the district has a contract with F&L Floorworks?

Note the district said work that was to take place on "July 18 and 19" was halted.

The work did not halt of July 16th when the contractor called to alert John Gallagher to what was suspected (and later confirmed to be) asbestos. It did not halt because George Wood Plumbing knew they were likely handling asbestos and thus illegally handing the tiles.

The reason work halted is because Sal Poretto informed John Gallagher that he intend to make an issue of the asbestos (more on why in a future story), that he had photographs, that he was going to the union and was otherwise going to make a big stink about the asbestos. That is why work halted.

Realizing he was in serious trouble if word got out about the illegal removal and disposal of asbestos material, Gallagher only then pulled George Wood Plumbing off the job, work which was to have also included work on a second office; instead Gallagher put a licensed asbestos contractor on the job. Note that Gallagher did not even bother to have the tiles in the second office tested before hiring an abatement company to remove those tiles. Those tiles were never tested.

Why would he do that?

I believe the reason he brought in the asbestos contractor was in a last ditch attempt to create a paper trail that would accomplish two things: (1) show that some asbestos abatement was done at the school during that week in July and hope no one noticed that the work manifest did not cover the work in Galland's office on July 16th; (2) to show that some asbestos material was properly removed from the building and carted to a licensed asbestos disposable facility and hope no one noticed the 6 bags of tiles from Galland's office stored in a closet for 4 days that was co-mingled with the 34 bags from the second office or the carpet that had been illegally dumped at a Waste Transfer Station in Mount Vernon.

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

This is one of the few straightforward accurate statements made by the district.

At the same time, air-quality testing was conducted in the Main Office, the Principal’s Office, and in the adjacent hallways. Results from the air-quality testing came back within the normal range.

No testing was done in the closet where asbestos material was illegally stored for four days nor the lobby where the carpet with asbestos tiles and material stuck to it was stored for about 24 hours.

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

This is true based on my reporting.

7. 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.

NYSED contacted the district because I contacted NYSED on July 24th and informed them there had been a possible asbestos exposure incident at the Davis Elementary School in New Rochelle, NY. The email exchange is published below.

NYSED apparently communicated only with John Gallagher. Asst. Supt. John Quinn was not informed of the SEC inquiry.

Based on emails from SED, it appears Gallagher failed to tell SED about the illegal work done on Tuesday July 16th or that the material was illegally stored and dumped.

8. 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. 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.

That was me again. The July 31 email reference in the timeline was from me reporting for Talk of the Sound to John Quinn (below).

There were two meetings.

First, Quinn met with Gallagher on Thursday August 1st. Gallagher told him the same story he told the SED. Quinn then got George Wood on speakerphone and, with Gallagher listening, questioned Wood. Wood confirmed the account I had provided to Quinn in my email.

Second, Quinn met with Sal Poretto, Tony Sinkfield, Billy Coleman, the union rep, and Scott Impara, the district licensed asbestos tester. There may have been others. Sal and Tony stated that they had samples of the tiles in their cars. The entire group went out to the parking lot at City Hall. Scott bagged and tagged the samples and sent them to be tested.

To be clear, the only reason these tiles were tested was because Quinn initiated an investigation after receiving my email on July 31st.

9. 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.

This is true based on my reporting. The tiles are non-friable if they are intact.

10. The district’s Medical Director, Dr. Adrienne Weiss-Harrison, discussed the results with Environmental Health staff at the Westchester County Department of Health (WCDOH). They informed Dr. Weiss that they do not consider this incident to have resulted in an exposure to asbestos. Therefore, no adverse health consequences are expected.

UPDATE: Westchester County Legislator Sheila Marcotte spoke with County Health officials who are said to be livid at the misrepresentations by the District and are seeking a retraction.

Marcotte says she spoke with DOH officials who explained that asbestos exposure incidents are not within the purview of the County Health Department. Once asbestos is disturbed or removed, the New York State Department of Labor is responsible. She says she was told the DOH did not "consult" with Dr. Weiss nor did they render a judgement on whether students or staff were exposed to asbestos.

Did Dr. Weiss fully describe what took place or an account tailored to minimize what took place? Did she tell them that tiles were broken? What size they were broken into? That the carpet contained pieces of tile and was left uncovered in the building for 24 hours, most of them in the lobby where children congregated at the start of the school day?

UPDATE: We now know from DOH that Dr. Weiss made false statements to DOH, claiming the tiles were all removed intact.

There are several reasons to believe that she did not provide a full accounting. First and foremost she only knows what she was told. Did she even know the full extent of what happened? And why is the DOH involved when the DEC and Department of Labor are the state regulatory agencies for asbestos in New York State. The federal EPA enforces the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act AHERA, What have they had to say?

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

Notification is supposed to be immediate. In fact, asbestos abatement work is supposed to be posted before work even begins. The notification by the district is three weeks after the work was done.

12. 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.

Until we know what Dr. Weiss told the DOH, this statement is meaningless.

UPDATE 8/7 12:30 PM: In an email moments ago, Heather McGill, spokesperson for the Westchester County Department of Health, sent the following:


The health department consulted with Dr. Adrienne Weiss-Harrison from the New Rochelle school district by phone about this matter. Nothing was provided in writing to the school district and no one from our staff was on site at the school. It was relayed to our staff that the tiles had been removed intact and not ground up in any way. That being the case, there was no opportunity to create dust and cause an exposure. In addition, an outside contractor was also brought in by the school to perform air quality sampling before any clean up was done and the results were satisfactory.

I responded by informing Ms. McGill that the statement that "tiles had been removed intact and not ground up in any way" is false. The tiles were broken into thousands of pieces, they ended up all over the floor, in the hallway and the lobby of the building. There are photographs of this. The many tiny pieces of tile and dust were swept up by a custodian.

DOH is not the competent authority on asbestos in New York State. The New York State Department of Labor regulates and enforces asbestos generally with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation responsible specifically for transportation of asbestos.

I have reported this incident to both the Department of Labor and the DEC as well as the federal EPA which enforces AHERA.

I have also requested the assistance of County officials in getting information from the DOH as to what they were told by the district and what the DOH told the district.

13. 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.

This only applies when the tiles are not broken into smaller pieces. At Davis, the tiles were broken into thousands of smaller pieces.

OSHAW.ORG Resilient floor tile, roof felts, asphalt tiles, asphalt mastics and transite roof shingles and piping are considered non-friable forms of asbestos, unless they are or will be damaged during demolition or renovation activities.

14. 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.


A great deal of dust was created. The tiles were not ground up but they were scraped off the floor and broken into "millions of tiny pieces" according to one sources.

15. 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).


Talk of the Sound has learned that John Quinn has advised the two board of education employees to be tested for asbestos exposure. So, while the district is telling parents not to worry they are telling their own employees to see a doctor.

16. The district remains committed to reviewing procedures and practices related to handling asbestos.

They are committed to reviewing procedures and practices related to handling asbestos? What is there to review? Asbestos handling is regulated by the EPA, DEC and Department of Labor. The procedures and practices are long-standing and well-known.

What I would like to see is that they are committed to enforcing procedures and practices required under New York State and Federal Law.

Further, John Gallagher should be removed from his position and George Wood Plumbing should be permanently banned from working in the New Rochelle School District.

EMAIL EXCHANGES BETWEEN TALK OF THE SOUND AND JOHN QUINN

On Aug 1, 2013, at 2:08 PM, "John Quinn" wrote:

Dear Mr. Cox:
I will look into this issue and get back to you.
thanks
John Quinn

>>> Robert Cox 7/31/2013 7:45 AM >>>
John,

By now you likely know I am working on a story about asbestos at Davis School.

While experience tells me I will not get a reply, in this case I am making the effort anyway because I suspect that when Davis parents hear the word "asbestos" and their school they will not react well. I believe it would be better to report that mistakes were made but addressed rather than just the fact of any mistakes.

I would much rather prefer to provide a full accounting based on my conversations with the NYSED, the Asbestos Control Bureau Of the NYS Department of Labor and the NYS DEC as well as local sources that includes you as the cabinet official responsible for B&G.

The story I have now is basically that George Wood Plumbing was pulling up carpeting in Michael Galland's office and a second office at Davis School. They encountered what they believed to be asbestos tile and called John Gallagher who told the contractors to proceed with the removal of the carpet and tile. Further, that there was no licensed person testing the material and no licensed asbestos abatement company brought in, no effort was made to close off the area, take air samples, to decontaminate, to run exhaust hoses, etc. Disposal was done by bagging the material and carting in a district garbage truck. It is my understanding that GWP is not a licensed asbestos tester or abatement company and their role in this may result in GWP losing their license.

Apparently, after I contacted SED to learn more about policies and procedures and laws regarding asbestos, someone there contacted the district. The SED now says that school officials informed them that you had proper manifests on the removal and appropriate air monitoring was performed by an independent third party. Based on my sources, I believe that none of this is the case. That basically, GWP disturbed asbestos tiles and rather than stop work and test and possibly abate the asbestos tiles Gallagher told them to simply remove all of it and dumped it. The word going around is that there are photographs, that Gallagher knows this and presumably you know this as the two of you had a meeting about this matter yesterday.

SED tells me they have requested documentation from the district and are seeking, in conjunction with the NYS Department of Labor, to determine that the asbestos removal was done properly.

Their statements would suggest that there has been an acknowledgement to SED that the tiles were asbestos as has been reported to me.

Robert Cox

Managing Editor
New Rochelle's Talk of the Sound

EMAIL EXCHANGES BETWEEN TALK OF THE SOUND AND NYSED

Any progress on getting answers to my original questions?

Thanks

Robert Cox

Managing Editor
New Rochelle's Talk of the Sound

On Jul 30, 2013, at 3:16 PM, Robert Cox wrote:

Antonia,

I spoke with Erik Luzker at the New York City District of the Asbestos Control Bureau Of the NYS Department of Labor.

Their district includes Westchester County and would thus include the Davis School in New Rochelle.

NEW YORK CITY DISTRICT:

Counties - Bronx, Kings, Nassau, New York, Queens, Richmond, Suffolk, Westchester

One Hudson Square, 75 Varick Street (7th Floor), New York, NY 10013
(212) 775-3532

Erik says he is the person to whom a complaint would be directed and he had received no complaint as of the time of my call. I filed one while I was on the phone with him as a resident/parent in the district.

So when you say "we are currently working with…the NYS Department of Labor" who are you talking about?

Robert Cox

Managing Editor
New Rochelle's Talk of the Sound

On Jul 30, 2013, at 12:02 PM, "Antonia Valentine" wrote:

Robert,

Apologies again for the delay.

School officials have informed us that they had proper manifests on the removal and appropriate air monitoring was performed by an independent third party. SED has been in contact with the school and we have requested documentation. We are currently working with the school and the NYS Department of Labor (which oversees asbestos projects) to determine that the asbestos removal was done properly.

I will follow-up with you this week with updates.

Thanks,
Antonia

>>> Robert Cox 7/30/2013 9:14 AM >>>
Antonio,

I had really expected to have an answer already. I want to get this story up ASAP.

Can you please get back to me this morning.

Thanks

Robert Cox

Managing Editor
New Rochelle's Talk of the Sound
http://www.newrochelletalk.com

On Jul 25, 2013, at 4:32 PM, Robert Cox wrote:

any luck on this?

On Jul 24, 2013, at 3:12 PM, Robert Cox wrote:

It is a public school.

Davis Elementary School in New Rochelle, NY

Bob

On Jul 24, 2013, at 1:56 PM, "Antonia Valentine" wrote:

Hello Robert,

Let me check. What school is this? Is it a public or non-public school?

-Antonia

>>> Robert Cox 7/24/2013 1:12 PM >>>
I see Mr. Burman is away. Can you please take this question?

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Jonathan Burman"
Subject: Re: Asbestos in Schools Questions (Vacation)
Date: July 24, 2013 1:07:17 PM EDT
To: "Robert Cox"
Reply-To: JBURMAN@MAIL.NYSED.GOV

I'll be out of the office -- with limited email access -- until Tuesday, July 30. Call (518)474-1201 if you need immediate assistance. Thanks --
Jonathan

Robert Cox 07/24/13 13:06 >>>

Mr. Burman,

I have been provided information that a plumbing company, a contractor working to replace carpeting and tiles at an elementary school in New Rochelle, found asbestos tiles under carpets in offices at the school. You may be wondering why a plumbing company is replacing floor titles. So am I. I do not have an explanation for that so far.

In any case, the contractor removed the tiles, placed them into standard garbage bags, placed them in the school's dumpster. They were picked up by the school district's sanitation crew which co-mingled with the school district's trash.

Checking the web I can see this page: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/facplan/AHERA/AsbestosReinspection.htm

I would like to understand what is supposed to happen when in a case like this. Also, as the horse is out of the barn, should steps be taken such as air quality monitoring or something along those lines?

Thanks

Robert Cox

Managing Editor
New Rochelle's Talk of the Sound
http://www.newrochelletalk.com

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

John D'Alois on Fri, 08/09/2013 - 06:01

Here's a photo of carpet being lifted with asbestos containing flooring tiles stuck to it ( sound familiar?). IF the tiles can be lifted in a manner that does not fracture, break, or otherwise disturb the structural integrity of that tile there usually isn't a problem. Once a tile(s) break,are cut, sanded or crumble, it becomes an abatement job. This is clearly stated in multiple laws on Federal, State and local levels.Every person involved in this fiasco should have known this or they were grossly incompetent. From Gallagher to the District Medical person, this is part and parcel of what they get paid for. Any reputable contractor knows that when it comes to ACM tile removal, it pretty much involves asbestos abatement contractors. No one says "well, let's try it and see what happens, we could always call the abatement team later" . Businesses are shut down and people are sued over stuff like that. How could you not be outraged over this? C'Mon people.