Asbestos Alert: Schools Face Hazmat Crises

The national crisis surrounding deferred maintenance in institutional and commercial facilities is especially acute in K-12 public schools. Many of these schools were built in the 1950s and 1960s and need extensive repairs or replacement. Compounding the challenge facing maintenance and engineering managers in these facilities is a decades-long lack of funding for such work.

The issue often comes to a head when critical problems arise in these facilities, such as the discovery of asbestos that was a common component of school construction. For example, parents of students at a West Baltimore elementary middle school are voicing concerns over possible asbestos work to the roof that will be done while kids are still attending classes, according to an article on

“I have a grandchild here. I have a nephew here,” says Tracey Goggins. “My nephew has asthma and I’m worried about kids and the staff help. I love the school.”

The parents’ hope is for the Rosemont Elementary Middle School to be shut down until the work is complete. The project is scheduled to begin soon and could last up to one year. “The roof is leaking substantially,” said Keith Scroggins, the city school chief operating officer. The roof has not been replaced since the building opened 47 years ago.

Parents received a letter in the mail that stated, “Please note that this project involves removal and demolition of the existing roof, which is old and may contain asbestos.” The letter went on to mention that daily air samples will be taken and that any dust or debris from the roof work will be removed before students and staff return to the building.

“The asbestos is not friable, in that it doesn’t blow away. It’ll be removed under mitigation standards by a certified company,” Scroggins says.

Some parents want more.

“I need for them to assure me that my child is going to be safe; that she is not going to become ill while they’re doing the work on the roof,” Goggins says.

“The project is not going to proceed until four o’clock in the afternoon, when everyone is gone,” Scroggins says. “There will not be any work done, certainly no asbestos removal, while students and staff members are in the building.”

Read: 9 steps to effective hazmat management

Rosemont Elementary Middle School is not alone when it comes to asbestos problems. Many schools were built with asbestos insulation, floor, and ceiling tiles. Plus, a plethora of other building products made use of the mineral.

Asbestos problems in Baltimore are not limited to schools, either. The city has been home to hundreds of hospitals, public buildings, and job sites where workers, visitors, and residents can be exposed to the carcinogenic material.

In fact, it has been proven asbestos has posed health risks to school teachers. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, in a study conducted between 1999 and 2001, found a substantially elevated rate of mesothelioma cancer among U.S. school teachers, whose only known exposure was on the job.

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State Government steps in to investigate asbestos fears after fire

THE State Government is investigating concerns raised by Carina Heights residents in last week’s South-East Advertiser about possible asbestos pollution from last month’s fire at the derelict Salvin Park nursing home site.


The residents said they heard explosions during the latest fire and feared airborne asbestos fibres had contaminated the neighbourhood.

Demolition crews have moved on site after Brisbane City Council issued an enforcement notice to owners TriCare requiring the demolition of all buildings on the Creek Rd site.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland spokeswoman said air monitoring would be conducted around the site.

“Workplace Health and Safety Queensland’s Asbestos Unit will inspect the site in conjunction with the demolisher to form a demolition plan, including strategies to protect the local community from exposure to asbestos fibres,” she said.

“We will conduct air monitoring around the site in the coming weeks and take action if required.”

TriCare declined to comment on the residents’ concerns about asbestos.

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Sick building’ investigation ongoing at Grant Sawyer

Asbestos Free Photo

A federal judge on Monday sentenced Joseph J. Chernis IV of Sherman to three years and one month in prison for illegal asbestos removal at the former Pillsbury Mills plant on the north side of Springfield.

Chernis, 35, was indicted in May 2016 for violating federal clean-air regulations by allowing untrained workers to remove and store asbestos between October 2014 and August 2015 at the former mill, where authorities said asbestos was stored in open containers, plastic garbage bags and cardboard boxes. Chernis also was accused of lying about the work in a separate cleanup lawsuit filed by the state of Illinois.

As part of the plea agreement, Chernis pleaded guilty in April of last year to one count each of illegal asbestos removal, demolition and disposal, while the three other counts brought against him were dismissed. He also confessed to obstructing justice.

At the start of the sentencing hearing, Judge Sue Myerscough said she had not decided whether she would stick to the sentencing guidelines of the plea agreement. According to Myerscough, sealed sentencing commentaries recommended a higher sentence than the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to.

“I have grave concerns about the damage to the community in this case,” Myerscough said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Crystal Correa pointed out the federal courts building in downtown Springfield is five minutes away from the mill, which had been full of asbestos.

″(The mill)’s near a park. It’s near Lanphier High School,” Correa said. “It’s in our community.”

Affects of asbestos when it is improperly handled and disposed of include lung cancer, mesothelioma.

Chernis said he wanted to put the episode behind him and that he would take the sentence “like a man.”

“I understand I’ve made some mistakes, some very big mistakes,” Chernis told the judge.

Myerscough noted that though Chernis showed repeated “callous disregard” for the law and the community, letters showed he had some “good” characteristics. She expressed concern for the health of the homeless man that Chernis employed to remove the asbestos and Chernis himself, who was onsite during demolition.

Myerscough did not fine Chernis. But she noted that restitution could be reached through an ongoing civil case brought by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in Sangamon County Circuit Court.

She revealed the new price tag of the asbestos cleanup was $2.5 million; it had been previously reported to be $1.8 million. The cleanup began a year ago and lasted nine months.

However, after hearing that asbestos remains on the 18-acre property within the interiors of the buildings, Circuit Judge John Madonia has refused to lift an injunction that keeps the Chernis and his partners off the site. While the asbestos is no longer an airborne threat, scrapping operations could be considered a hazard, according to project coordinator Kevin Turner.

After the sentencing, Chernis, in an interview, called the government’s cleanup of the site a “joke.”

“I think it’s an overreaction,” Chernis said of his prosecution. “If (the asbestos) is so dangerous, why is it not yet cleaned up? How’s it safe, but you are telling me it’s still there?”

Chernis said he didn’t think anyone was harmed because the asbestos was removed improperly.

“Anybody can make an accusation, but nothing’s been proven,” Chernis said.

According to court records, Chernis’ plant owner partners are his father Joe Chernis III and another Sherman resident, Keith Crain. Both were not charged in the federal indictment. The elder Chernis was at his son’s sentencing but offered no comment.

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California Mobile Home Park Shuts Down Due to Asbestos

Journey’s End Mobile Home Park will remain closed at least until Wednesday pending laboratory test results of materials found last week in the fire-ravaged community that may contain asbestos, officials said Sunday at a community meeting.

The park, located on Mendocino Avenue just north of Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, was shut down by city officials Friday morning following consultations with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials who are leading a countywide cleanup of household hazardous waste in the wake of fires that destroyed more than 5,000 Sonoma County homes.

The wind-driven Tubbs fire, which raced from Calistoga into Santa Rosa on Oct. 8, incinerated about 140 of the park’s 160 homes, fire officials said last week.

Materials that may contain asbestos were found by EPA crews at 25 sites in Journey’s End, Tom Dunkelman, an on-scene coordinator for the federal agency, told a crowd of about 200 people at the Steele Lane Community Center.

“We don’t know for sure if these materials are asbestos-containing or not,” he said.

The entire park was closed due to concern about public health, said Paul Lowenthal, the city’s assistant fire marshal.

 “It was for your protection,” he told the estimated crowd of about 200.

It’s unknown how extensive the asbestos contamination in Journey’s End may be or how long it could take the clean it up, he said.

The “best-case scenario,” Lowenthal said, is the asbestos is limited to “isolated areas” that can be cleaned quickly, but there are concerns it “could be scattered throughout the mobile home park.”

Test results won’t be known until at least Wednesday, he said, and the Fire Department has determined Journey’s End is currently “an unhealthy place to be.”

Journey’s End had been reopened to residents Oct. 20.

Inhaling high levels of asbestos is known to cause lung damage, including cancer, Sonoma County Health Officer Karen Milman told the crowd.

“It’s definitely a toxin,” she said, noting that most harm is related to prolonged exposure but short-term contact with asbestos is also a concern.

Asbestos is found in construction materials including roofing, pipes and pipe wrapping, floor tile, shingles and attic insulation, according to an EPA bulletin made available at the meeting. EPA crews found no “obvious asbestos” in Coffey Park, where fire leveled more than 1,000 homes in a neighborhood across Highway 101 from Journey’s End, Dunkelman said.

Several residents whose mobile homes survived the fire questioned why they are off-limits.

“Why can’t I go in there and get my belongings?” asked Michele Trammell, a 12-year resident of Journey’s End.

EPA is checking other mobile home parks around the county, but Journey’s End is the only one where possible asbestos has been found, Dunkelman said, adding the trailer park setting is risky because homes are close together.

In an interview after the meeting, Trammell said, “I don’t really care about asbestos. I want to go home and get my stuff.”

Steven Morrow, a resident for two years, asked during the meeting if Journey’s End would be condemned by the city.

“It’s a community, it’s a home. I love these people,” he said.

Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey said the mobile home park will remain “unless the owner decides to do otherwise.”

Louise Smith, an octogenarian who said she is park’s longest-tenured resident at 37 years, said she’s unsure if she wants to return but wasn’t impressed with the asbestos issue.

“I think it’s a bunch of bull— if you ask me,” she said after the meeting.

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Former workers exposed to asbestos urged to sue Japanese government to claim damages

The labor ministry said Monday it will encourage individual former asbestos plant workers who suffered mesothelioma or other health damage, and relatives of such workers who have died, to file damages lawsuits against the government.

The ministry decided to make the unusual move because such lawsuits need to be settled before the government pays damages to the victims.

There are 2,314 workers exposed to asbestos who are believed eligible to receive damages but who have not yet filed lawsuits against the government, according to the ministry. The ministry plans first to send related leaflets to 756 whose names and addresses are known.

In October 2014, the Supreme Court for the first time found the government responsible for asbestos pollution affecting plant workers in Osaka Prefecture, ruling that it was illegal for the government to neglect to oblige asbestos plant operators to install exhaust air ducts.

Following the ruling, the ministry decided to pay damages, under certain conditions, after settling lawsuits with victims.

As of the end of last month, a total of some ¥2.1 billion had been paid to 236 plaintiffs, while 197 others were in the process of claiming ¥1.5 billion.

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