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New York State Launches Investigation into Aramark's Use of Banned Toxic Chemicals in New Rochelle Schools

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New York State Launches Investigation into Aramark's Use of Banned Toxic Chemicals in New Rochelle Schools

April 01, 2016 - 22:34
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NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The New York State Department of Labor Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau (PESH) has launched an investigation into the use of banned toxic chemical cleaning products in the City School District of New Rochelle under the direction of Aramark Management Services.

Aramark Management Services has had a contract to manage school facilities in the New Rochelle public schools since 1987. PESH, a department within the New York State Department of Labor, enforces health and safety standards from the United States Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and state standards.

PESH Investigators conducted initial inspections at New Rochelle High School earlier this week based on a complaint filed with PESH two weeks ago — and since obtained by Talk of the Sound. The complaint alleges that Aramark has, for decades, failed to provide employees with training, safety gear and safety equipment. 

The complaint filed with PESH centers on Enverros Sanimaster 4, a general-purpose sanitizer widely used to clean and sanitize school buildings in New Rochelle. The product contains high amounts of ammonium chloride, ammonium compounds, and other chlorides. Enverros Sanimaster 4 is manufactured by Ecolab, a Minnesota-based chemical products company.

According to an Ecolab Material Safety Data Sheet provided to district employees by Aramark Enverros Sanimaster 4 has an acute toxicity and can damage the liver, the upper respiratory tract, blood, the reproductive system, and the central nervous system. In cases of direct contact or splashing, the product can cause severe eye and skin burns and, if ingested, damage the digestive tract and, if inhaled, the respiratory system.

Custodial staff in the City School District of New Rochelle work at 14 locations including 11 schools, 2 workshops and office space at New Rochelle’s City Hall. Enverros Sanimaster 4 is used at every location.

Since Aramark was retained in 1987, no custodial staff employees have received training on the proper storage, handling and application of Enverros Sanimaster 4, according to the complaint.

The complaint further alleged that custodial staff were never provided suitable protective equipment such as chemical-resistant impervious gloves, chemical splash goggles, or face shields to go over the googles. There are no eye wash or quick drench stations at any school facilities for the use of custodial staff while handling or applying this product. The product is routinely handled and applied in areas that do not have adequate ventilation such as bathrooms, locker rooms, some classrooms, and storage areas. The product is often stored on cleaning carts that are within the reach of children, especially during after school activities and evening programs at the schools. The product is routinely poured down drains and into sewers that, in turn, empty into Long Island Sound. Custodial staff do not typically remove clothing or shoes that are contaminated with the product. Each represents violations of New York State and Federal laws.

The complaint expressed concerns that students, staff and visitors regularly come in contact with this product as contaminated custodial staff walk down hallways, touch door knobs while opening doors, drink water from water fountains, use bathroom toilets and sinks, and otherwise move about the buildings.

Talk of the Sound obtained a list of chemical cleaning products used in the City School District of New Rochelle. Enverros Sanimaster 4 is one of 43 cleaning products Aramark has introduced to school buildings in New Rochelle.  These products, most manufactured by Ecolab, are sold to the district by Aramark.

Just eight products used in the district are on the New York State approved Green Cleaning product list: Enverros All Purpose Cleaner 2, Enverros Bowl Care Concentrate, Enverros Citric Acid, Enverros Floorstar Powerstrip Finish Remover, Enverros Floorstar Premium 25 Finish, Quik Fill 510 E General Purpose Cleaner, Quik Fill 520 E Glass Cleaner, and Quik Fill 910 E Neutral Bathroom Cleaner.

Enverros Floorstar Powerstrip Finish Remover, on the approved list, has been quietly replaced with Enverros Floorstar Conquer, another banned cleaning product. Employees have not been provided a Materials Safety Data Sheet for Enverros Floorstar Conquer.

35 of the 43 products provided by Aramark are banned by New York State for use in schools. The following products in use in New Rochelle schools are not on the New York State approved-list: Enverros Aerosol Stainless Steel Polish, Enverros Creamy Stainless Steel Polish, Enverros Dry Mop Treatment, Enverros Fiberfresh Allclean, Enverros Fiberfresh Gum Remover, Enverros Fiberfresh Light Extraction Cleaner, Enverros Fiberfresh Quick Dri, Enverros Fiberfresh SL Soil Lifter, Enverros Fiberfresh Ultra Pro, Enverros Floorstar Baseboard Finish Remover, Enverros Floorstar Conquer, Enverros Floorstar Duoclene, Enverros Floorstar Glaze Restorer 2, Enverros Floorstar Light Duty Cleaner 4, Enverros Floorstar Superior 30 Floor Finish, Enverros Floorstar Tfr Low Odor, Enverros Foam Control, Enverros Glassbrite, Enverros Glassclene Pro, Enverros Graffiti Wipes, Enverros Grease Soil Lifter, Enverros Odorgo Room Deodorant Pro, Enverros Odorgo Room Deodorizer Citrus, Enverros Sanimaster 4, Enverros Solvoil, Enverros Wallglide Graffiti Remover, Enverros Wallglide Plus, Enverros Wallglide White Board Cleaner, ServiceMaster MetalGlo Glisten, ServiceMaster Scrub N Shine Plus, Stonemedic Mpc Marble Polishing Compound. Ultimate Solutions Janitorial Chemicals County Garden,  Zinc Free Finish Remover and Zinc Free Floor Finish.

Materials Safety Data Sheets have not been provided to district employees for ServiceMaster MetalGlo Glisten, ServiceMaster Scrub N Shine Plus, and Ultimate Solutions Janitorial Chemicals County Garden.

Aramark is selling these products to the City School District of New Rochelle for use in schools in violation of New York State law. They have not provided employee training on how to handle, apply and store these chemical cleaning products and have failed to provide safety gear such as goggles, face shields, face masks, chemical-resistant impervious gloves, and aprons as indicated for these products on their respective Materials Safety Data Sheet.

6 chemical cleaning products used in the schools are not listed on the “cover sheet” provided to employees in their Materials Safety Data Sheet binder. Materials Safety Data Sheets for 5 of the chemical cleaning products are not in the Materials Safety Data Sheet binder. Talk of the Sound was able to locate online Materials Safety Data Sheets for all but 2 of the products.

A review of the Materials Safety Data Sheets for the 43 products introduced into the New Rochelle schools (of which just 6 are on the Green Cleaning list of approved cleaning products) shows numerous hazards for which district employees are not trained or protected: 10 of the products are Flammable and 3 are Combustible; 32 of the products are hazards for severe eye burns or eye irritation; 23 of the products are hazards for severe skin burns or skin irritation; 6 of the products are hazards for respiratory irritation including asthma; 33 of the 43 products are ventilation hazards.

The Materials Safety Data Sheets indicate whether safety equipment is needed when handling or applying the products: 21 of the products require goggles or other protective eye-wear; 22 of the products require chemical resistant impervious-gloves; 8 of the products require aprons or some other form of protective clothing. Again, none of this safety equipment has ever been provided by Aramark to district employees.

The New York State Green Cleaning Program for Elementary and Secondary Schools in the State is the result of an amendment to Chapter 584 of the Laws of 2005 (the New York State Green Cleaning Law). The law amended the New York State Education Law and Finance Law to require elementary and secondary schools to procure and use environmentally sensitive cleaning and maintenance products with assistance from, and in accordance with, guidelines prescribed by the New York State Office of General Services Commissioner. The Law went into effect in September 2006.

According to the GreenCleaning.ny.gov web site, New York became the first state in the nation to use legislation to address the hazardous impact of cleaning chemicals in schools on the well-being of building. In 2007, the New York State Board of Regents announced the NY-CHPs High Performance Schools Guidelines as an appendix of the New York State Education Department Manual of Planning Standards. These guidelines direct schools to develop a formal policy supporting the use of New York State Office of General Services approved green cleaning and maintenance products.  No such policy exists in New Rochelle.

District employees say they have been worried for years.

“Members of our union has raised concerns about these dangerous and illegal cleaning products many times,” said Mike Tozzo, Vice President for Service Related Processionals for the Federation of United School Employees (FUSE). Tozzo represents all service related professional within FUSE including the custodial staff working in the City School District of New Rochelle. He is the Head Custodian at Trinity Elementary School in New Rochelle.

“Employees who complained about the use of these banned toxic chemicals, were threatened and harassed,” said Tozzo, such employees were denied overtime, given unpopular work details or transferred to schools where they did not want to work.

Talk of the Sound has learned that in a recent meeting, Arturo Rivera, New Rochelle Director of Facilities Management and the senior Aramark employee working in the district, sought to threaten and blame district employees for Aramark's failure to provide training, safety gear and safety equipment to employees. Rivera stated that it was the responsibility of employees to bring such compliance issues to the attention of Aramark. He stated the failure to make such requests would reflect badly on the employees and actively discouraged further discussion of the issue.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 states that employers are required to provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers, what is known as the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act.

Under the OSH Act, employers are responsible for knowing when protective equipment is needed, must find and correct safety and health conditions and try to eliminate or reduce hazards first by making feasible changes in working conditions such as switching to safer chemicals, enclosing processes to trap harmful fumes, or using ventilation systems to clean the air. Employers are responsible for providing workers with information like Materials Safety Data Sheets and doing more than just relying on personal protective equipment such as goggles, masks, or gloves.

Employees who work for state and local governments are not covered by Federal OSHA, but have OSH Act protections if they work in those states that have an OSHA-approved state plan. New York is among those states.

The law requires employers to provide workers with needed safety equipment such as goggles, gloves, aprons or other types of personal protective equipment, typically free of charge.

Workers have the right to know, under the OSH Act, what hazards are present in the workplace and how to protect themselves which includes safety training and copies of Materials Safety Data Sheets for all such hazardous products.

The law has a section specifically on toxic chemicals.

Under the "Right to Know about Chemical Hazards" section,  employers must keep a current list of hazardous chemicals that are in the workplace, make available to workers and their representatives Materials Safety Data Sheets that provide detailed information about chemical hazards, their effects, how to prevent exposure, and emergency treatment if an exposure occurs and inform and train workers about hazardous chemicals and substances in the workplace.

There has been an across-the-board failure by Aramark to meet these standards in New Rochelle over the last 30 years.

Rivera told district employees at a recent meeting that "no one" is going to look good if employees go down the road of complaining about OSHA or PESH violations. Rivera said Aramark had been managing the district facilities "forever" (29 years) and not providing training then proposed a story they could all tell that would "protect" everyone. 


Aramark did not respond to questions for this article.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Robert Cox is a member of the City School District of New Rochelle District-Wide Health & Safety Committee. This report was initaited before Cox was appointed to the committee.

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New Rochelle School Board needs to listen more and talk less!

 While we have seen a turnaround lately with the superintendent and assistant superintendent more needs to be done. Dig deeper and listen to the people that speak. I have been talking about some of the basic practices behind the sceens over and above the physical problems with The City of New Rochelle School District. I spoke of problems at the meetings the last few months but as far back as 2013.

 I have a background in sales, safety and operations and was received certified safety training by OSHA when I was a facilities manager and in charge of the safety ratings for a company facility. I have stated this several times at meetings when asking questions so they knew I wasn’t talking from lack of knowledge.

 Here is a copy of my comments from a School Board Meeting from September 24, 2013.

 School Board Meeting 9/24/13:

Last time I spoke, Mr. Latcher lashed out at Bob Cox about Davis school. First it was unprofessional and the reaction of someone who is guilty or realizes that what was done was wrong. I was not able to respond following this outburst. My point was not about Davis school, it is about the safety procedures in the district and the failure to use, follow and monitor procedures. If they are, what else are The New Rochelle School District and The Board of Education missing? We hope this is a onetime occurrence as Mr. Latcher claims. We have a right to be concerned and not just for something like Davis. What about the everyday cleaning supplies or the other chemicals used by employees, staff and outside contractors. Is training and review done for old and new hires on the procedures if they exist?

 In the words of Mary Jane Reddington from her speech the night of 9/11, Change things and continue to change things. The time is now. Time and again people speak and ask questions that aren’t answered. Eventually this will catch up to The New Rochelle School District and The Board of Education. We do have some good people but they and their accomplishments are overshadowed by the actions and misgivings of others. We have seen some of this recently with the schools and some employees. These are people we/you entrust with the responsibility of following and maintaining policies and procedures. We have seen some recently that don’t even follow common sense and we trust them and you with the lives of our children.

 We have a custodian at the Isaac E. Young Middle School in New Rochelle is facing disciplinary charges after driving his pick-up truck on the soccer field to chase geese off a field? Poor judgment!

 We have a security guard at New Rochelle High School, was arrested last weekend on charges of DWI then goes to work once released? Poor judgment!

 We have Labs with chemicals and other hazardous materials, storage rooms of cleaning supplies, classrooms, shops chemical compounds for many things that involve items that most likely require safety procedures and protocols. Are the MSDS Material Safety Data Sheets up to date? Are safety procedures in place? Is there training for current and new employees like custodians, security guards, teachers, principals, faculty, staff in The New Rochelle School District and most important, our children and students? What type of judgment is being used in these situations?

 The New York State Plan for Public Employee Safety and Health (PESH), by authority under Section 27(a) of the New York Labor Law, is responsible for promoting the health and safety for more than 2 million State and Local government employees in the State.  Do we/ they follow the guide lines set by them?

 https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/osp/stateprogs/new_york.html

 The New York State Plan applies to all public sector employers in the State, including: State, County, Town, and Village governments, as well as Public Authorities, Paid /  Volunteer Fire Departments and of course  School Districts.

 Are reviews being done at all level for evaluation of efficiency and productivity? I believe that the employee attendance system is still manual with no time clock. Teachers and staff still just sign in. Not even a time stamp card clock system. How can we hold people accountable if we can’t keep track of their time on the clock? Are they late or leaving early? Is the head count appropriate for the time of day? What are people’s schedules? For security and safety sake, are they present or absent?

 So many question and so few answers. Why haven’t the people that ask questions gotten answers? Why haven’t my questions since last February been answered? What else is hidden under the carpet besides asbestos? You work for the taxpayers and answer to the taxpayers and their children. Not to answer the questions is a failure of your appointed or hired responsibility.

 Change things and continue to change things!

 

Over the years The New Rochelle School Board, School District and “Yes ARAMARK” have been entrusted with millions of taxpayer dollars that have been miss-used and or actually stolen due to crooked contractors, poor management and a total lack of accountability. That is why the vote failed the last time back in December.  I don’t believe anyone had a problem with the $50 Million dollar bond; it was the lack of answers to questions and a failure to respond to the taxpayers and parents over the years that was the problem.

 Our children’s lives and taxpayer dollars are at stake here. If what they say is true about the systems finances, if we didn’t have all the waste and fraud over the years, they would have even more money available and maybe not need a $50 million dollar bond. This is yet another story because now there would have been a need for $80.6 million to bring the schools to a satisfactory level.

 So I say to The New Rochelle School Board and New Rochelle School District, I hope this opened some of your eyes and minds to what the real issues are. Get us answers, use common sense, have a conscience, transparency and accountability before the next vote. As for the City of New Rochelle School Board Members, sometimes you have to reach your lowest point and admit you’re wrong before you can truly change and move forward.

 Now is the time, show us what you are made of and move forward with sweeping reviews of all aspects of The City School District of New Rochelle top down!!!

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I suspect NYS will find Aramark did use these banned chemicals. About 5 years ago when my children were first attending the Davis School, the boys bathroom in the hallway that leads to the gymnasium had a suffocating ammonia smell. It was unbearable and my children refused to use that bathroom. I contacted Principal Harrell who had the custodial staff do something to the bathroom that greatly reduced the smell. Prior to my contacting him, it was in that condition for at least several weeks.

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