NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Samples of floor tiles from the George M. Davis Elementary School, sent out for analysis by the City School District of New Rochelle on Friday, tested "positive" for asbestos, setting off a flurry of activity at City Hall, sources say. School district officials have declined repeated requests to comment.
As Talk of the Sound has previously reported, investigations by the New York State Department of Labor Asbestos Control Bureau and the New York State Education Department were initiated last week based on reporting by Talk of the Sound.
Talk of the Sound had received information that asbestos tiles and material may have been improperly handled and disposed of illegally. The test results confirm this to have been the case.
By failing to stop work and seal off the area when workers found what they believed to be asbestos in the office of Principal Michael Galland on July 16th, a number of New York State and Federal laws were violated.
The asbestos material was confirmed in tiles, dust and pieces of tile and dust stuck to a carpet ripped up by employees of district contractor George Wood Plumbing working at the direction of John Gallagher, Director of Buildings and Grounds. Gallagher is a contractor, employed by Aramark.
Asbestos in schools is heavily regulated by New York State and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Staff and students in the building from July 16th to July 20th, may have been exposed to the cancer-causing material. School officials did confirm that students were in the building that week until noon each day along with staff and visitors.
By law, staff and students at a school must be notified immediately of possible exposure to asbestos. That has yet to happen.
Talk of the Sound has reported for years on problems within the Buildings and Grounds Department including kickbacks, no-show jobs and shady contractors. This is just the latest example.
Assistant Superintendent John Quinn, the New Rochelle Board of Education cabinet official responsible for Buildings and Grounds, first became aware of the asbestos incident at Davis last Thursday from an email from Talk of the Sound seeking comment on the incident.
Quinn held series of meetings Thursday and Friday.
Sources tell Talk of the Sound that Quinn met with Gallagher for several hours on Thursday, late into the evening. During the meeting, a call was placed to George Wood, the plumbing contractor who did the work. With Gallagher listening on speakerphone, Quinn questioned Wood who confirmed the details of the incident as reported by Talk of the Sound last week.
The following day Quinn held a meeting with John Gallagher, Sal Poretta, the driver of the garbage truck used to remove the contaminated carpet and material from the building, Anthony Sinkfield, the head custodian at the school, William Coleman, the union representative for Buildings & Grounds employees within F.U.S.E., and Scott Impera, the school district employee who runs an asbestos team with the school district. Impera is a licensed asbestos tester who works with two other employees licensed for asbestos, Victor Christiani and Anthony Minieri. Christiani is also a member of the district's Health and Safety Committee and the recently-formed District-Wide Safety Committee.
After the meeting, those attending went outside to the parking lot where Poretta and Sinkfield had tiles samples in their cars. The files were broken into pieces, bagged, tagged and sent by overnight courier to an asbestos testing lab by Impara.
With asbestos contamination at the school now confirmed, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will now be called in to track the disposal of the asbestos material.
The tiles and contaminated carpet was carried from the principal's office, through the hallway, to the school lobby and out the front doors of the school, according to one source. The material was then transported in an open garbage truck to the district yard at 51 Cliff Street, co-mingled with other district trash and delivered to a waste transfer station in Mount Vernon.
By contrast, asbestos material taken from a second that was properly abated after Poretta and Sinkfield complained about asbestos exposure from the Principal's office, was sealed and removed in a special vehicle and carted to a special asbestos dump site in Pennsylvania.
40 bags of asbestos material was removed from the school on the weekend of July 20-21 and taken to a facility near Philadelphia. 6 of the 40 bags had been improperly stored in a closet for four days, starting on July 16th.
UPDATE: A robocall and email has now been sent from Davis School.
Hello, this is Michael Galland, principal of Davis Elementary School with an important message for the Davis community.
Recently, while construction work was being done by an outside contractor in the principal’s office at Davis, tiles were discovered under carpeting that we learned today contained chrysotile, a form of asbestos.
Students and staff were not in the vicinity of the office while the removal work was being completed. After all of the tiles and carpeting were removed, the air quality in the building was tested and the results were within the normal range. 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.
A second air quality test is being conducted today to be sure that the building remains clear.
For further information, please consult the district website at www.nred.org. Thank you.
TALK OF THE SOUND ANALYSIS OF THE STATEMENT BY THE NEW ROCHELLE BOARD OF EDUCATION
The work took place on July 16th -- three weeks ago. The district was required by law to stop work immediately. Not look into it weeks later.
"an outside contractor"
George Wood Plumbing was working at the direction of John Gallagher, Director of Building & Grounds for the New Rochelle Board of Education and a consultant working for Aramark. When Wood's people found what they suspected (rightly) was asbestos they stopped work and called Gallagher who directed them to continue with the work.
"we learned today contained chrysotile, a form of asbestos"
About 95% of the asbestos in commercial use in the United States is chrysotile.
"Students and staff were not in the vicinity of the office while the removal work was being completed"
The operative phrase here is "while the removal work was being completed". First, there is no way to know which students and staff were in the vicinity of the office while the work was being done. No one was keeping track. This is simply wishful thinking. Second, the asbestos material (tiles, dust, carpets) was in Michael Galland's office, the hallways, the lobby and a closet over a period of FOUR days not just while the work was being performed.
"After all of the tiles and carpeting were removed, the air quality in the building was tested"
This is perhaps the most egregiously misleading statement. Yes, it was "after". But it was FOUR DAYS after. In the meantime, there is no way of knowing the level of asbestos that was in the area. Obviously, the concentration of asbestos fibers in the air would be highest on the day the work took place and decline over succeeding days.
It was not until Saturday July 20th that air monitors were placed in Galland's office, in the secretary's office and in the hallway outside Galland's office. No air monitors were ever placed in or near the closet or in the lobby.
"the results were within the normal range"
The results of air monitoring done four days later was within normal range, not the day the work was done or in the days that followed.
"the Westchester Department of Health…(does) not consider this incident to be an exposure to asbestos"
The credibility of this statement depends on the basis for the DOH opinion. I have contacted DOH to get further information and will update that information here. This statement is questionable given that the New York State Education Department issued a statement last week to Talk of the Sound that school officials told SED that they had "proper manifests on the removal" and that "appropriate air monitoring was performed by an independent third party".
In our opinion, this is because John Gallagher sought to cover up the illegal removal of asbestos material on July 16th by hiring an asbestos contractor to work over the weekend (July 20-21) so that he could get paperwork that would show that asbestos abatement took place at the school in July and that asbestos material was removed and carted to a licensed asbestos dump to muddy the waters, exactly what the district is now seeking to do.
"A second air quality test is being conducted today to be sure that the building remains clear"
This is entirely meaningless. The asbestos removal in Galland's office took place three weeks ago. If their air was clear on July 20-21 then obviously it would be clear on August 5th.
Further, the air quality is less of an issue with asbestos tiles; the issue is direct contact, the type which can occur when workers are handling the material, it was being carried around the building attached to carpeting which can then brush against walls, floors and doorways.
Statement from Assistant Superintendent John Quinn to Talk of the Sound.
Thank you for your concern about the floor tile work in the principal's office and asbestos at Davis. That has been looked into. Floor tile samples were tested and today came back positive for asbestos. A 'robo call' went out to Davis parents and staff and, a description of the issue and health impact is being put onto the District's website today. The District will review its procedures and practices for handling asbestos and those of its contractors.
Thank you once again.
When a product that contains asbestos is disturbed, tiny fragments break free. Tile is considered nonfriable and often poses little or no risk when left undisturbed. However, if it is broken or damaged it can create a hazard. Some of the most frequent causes of exposure to loose chrysotile fibers are building renovation and repairs.
Homeowners, construction workers, and asbestos abatement professionals can all be exposed to chrysotile from broken floor tiles. This occurs during activities such as scraping, sanding, drilling, cutting or removal. Chrysotile fragments can come into direct contact with the skin in these circumstances. These particles may also become airborne and be inhaled into the lungs.
Demolition activities can also release significant quantities of chrysotile into the air.
Skin contact with chrysotile fragments may cause irritation similar to that caused by fiberglass. Tiny splinters of asbestos can work their way into the skin and eventually the fibers will become overgrown with calluses.
Broken pieces of chrysotile fiber are very light and can easily become airborne. Inhalation of such particles causes scarring of the lung tissue (asbestosis). It can also increase the likelihood of lung cancer. Smokers are much more likely than nonsmokers to develop lung cancer from asbestos exposure.The risks of serious health consequences increase with long exposure to significant quantities of the substance.
Isolating or sealing off areas that contain damaged chrysotile is usually preferable to removing it. The removal or "abatement" process itself can create more of a hazard than the original damage. It stirs up a great deal of asbestos contaminated dust.
Only trained abatement technicians should attempt to repair or replace damaged chrysotile flooring. They must wear protective gear to reduce exposure. The clothing worn during asbestos removal generally becomes contaminated and must be disposed of safely. Regular dust masks do not protect against inhalation. At a minimum, HEPA cartridge filtered masks are required. Rubber gloves, boots and clear goggles are required to prevent skin and eye contact with asbestos.
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