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.