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

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NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- With their own timeline of events now in tatters, officials at the City School District of New Rochelle are under increasing fire from the Westchester County Department of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conversation. The New York State Depart of Labor’s Asbestos Control Bureau and the New York Stated of Education Department have already been looking at the District for the past two weeks.

County Legislator Sheila Marcotte, whose district includes the George M. Davis Elementary School, says she has been fielding calls from concerned parents over reports that cancer-causing asbestos material was strewn throughout offices, hallways and the school lobby after workers removed asbestos tiles.

"I spoke with DOH officials this afternoon and they are livid with New Rochelle school officials for attributing statements to DOH that they say were never made," said Marcotte.

"It is my understanding that as of today the DOH has requested that the statement distributed by the district be retracted by the school district - as it does not properly reflect the representations that were made to the DOH and by the DOH.

Marcotte is referring to two documents.

A timeline document which states:

As individuals were not exposed to asbestos at Davis School, per the WCDOH, no action is required.

An email and robocalls sent to parents which states:

Our medical director, Dr. Adrienne Weiss-Harrison has consulted with the Westchester Department of Health and they have advised us that they do not consider this incident to be an exposure to asbestos.

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.

In a statement issued yesterday to Talk of the Sound, WCDOH said Weiss-Harrison reported to them that all tiles were removed intact and thus non-friable, meaning asbestos fibers were not released into the air.

Sources tell Talk of the Sound that in reality the tiles were broken into thousands of small pieces and scatted throughout the building including hallways, the lobby and elsewhere, sources say. There are reportedly photographs which were being made available to investigators. By the District's own admission asbestos material was illegally stored in the school for 24 hours without being properly sealed off or protected.

At the same time school officials were telling parents there was nothing to worry about, they were quietly advising their own staff to visit their doctor to be checked for asbestos exposure and making preparations to bring in licensed asbestos contractors to decontaminate the entire school.

A note on the District web site posted today announced:

This weekend, the Davis building will undergo a complete and thorough cleaning.

In other developments, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has issued a statement that they are now in contact with the New York State Depart of Labor’s Asbestos Control Bureau which is investigating the incident.

"EPA has been in communication with the New York State Depart of Labor’s Asbestos Control Bureau about this school," said Elias Rodriguez, spokesperson for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "They have been on-site."

The New York State Department of Environmental Conversation has initiated their own criminal investigation and plans to coordinate with investigators from the Department of Labor.

Rodriguez explained that DOL is responsible for asbestos removal and handling and DEC is responsible for transportation and disposal.

"EPA's Asbestos requirements that apply to schools are broken down into two areas. The regulations that pertain to demolition and renovation work that will result in disturbing asbestos are regulated under the Clean Air Act (CAA) and can be found in the federal code of regulations(CFR) at 40 CFR Part 61, Subpart M. That regulations that apply to managing asbestos in schools are regulated under the Toxics Substance and Control Act (TSCA) can be found at 40 CFR Part 763, Subpart E, and were promulgated under the authority of the "Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act" (AHERA)." wrote Rodriguez in email.

Asked why EPA would work through DOL, Rodriguez said that as a general matter, in New York State, asbestos-related matters are handled by the state and local agencies whose regulations contain more stringent requirements than the federal regulations.

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