After years of defending itself from accusations of shoddy protection in the abatement of asbestos in the West Haven High School reconstruction project, a new study by the American Federation of Teachers has put to rest any fears the public might have. That was the assessment of city officials and the chairman of the WHHS Building Committee with the publication of the report.
“This completely exonerates us and puts all those accusations to bed,” said Ken Carney, chairman of the building committee. “The union did the study after getting complaints, came in with the attitude something was wrong, and then sent this report.”
Since the project began more than three years ago, various parents and activists have complained the city and the Board of Education were not following protocols on the removal of the asbestos. Those accusations included charges of allowing asbestos to hang in open spaces, and that air quality samples were not up to standard.
According to Carney, the AFT sent a survey to teachers at the school asking about the health and safety practices during the reconstruction. Forty-four percent of the respondents said they were experiencing health issues, and some attributed them to the project.
A team of professionals from the Union Leadership Institute of the AFT came to the school on Oct. 1. They toured the school and recorded their observations. The tour included officials from the local school system as well as project managers. The report was written by Amy Bahruth, the ULI’s assistant director.
“The AFT team came into West Haven saying, ‘This is a sick building,’ and were looking for things to prove it,” said Carney.
One of the common complaints was the recurrence of dust all over the building that might contribute to respiratory problems. The report found otherwise.
“During the walk-through we observed no nuisance dust in either of the buildings (new or old). In fact, the buildings all were extremely clean and orderly,” the report said. It saw that protocols were in place, and its recommendations included a reporting protocol should a staff member experience some type of difficulty.
As far as the protections for staff and students from current construction zones, the report was just as positive. It noted that students moving from the old building to the new were protected by fencing that kept them away from construction areas. It recommended the current measures be maintained.
Asbestos was sprayed on the beams, in the floor tiles and in wall paint, the report noted. On the matter of abatement, the observations of the committee were seen as vindication by officials.
“The administration has followed all the proper protocol (sic) for asbestos abatement regulations and has even had the EPA regional office in Boston in for consultation on the demolition of the old building. From our observations, the asbestos in floor tiles and on the walls were well maintained and not in a friable condition,” the report said. It did recommend that any further abatement be done when the school is vacant, such as the summer.
On a complaint concerning storage of construction materials, the report said the team found no indication of “improper storage.” It was just as positive concerning construction-related odors and the complaint that there were visible signs of mold. In both instances the report was negative to those points.
“The new building is truly a state-of-the-art facility and showcases the best of new technologies in design and environmental considerations. The district even went so far to conduct an air stream study so that wind patterns could not determine the best location for air intakes and exhaust on the new HVAC systems that will be installed building-wide. While the construction and renovation phase of this project is not ideal during school hours, we feel that the necessary steps to ensure the health and safety of all building occupants is being taken seriously with the utmost responsibility by the school district and the construction contractor,” the report stated.
Copies of the report were sent to West Haven Federation of Teachers President Kristen Malloy-Scanlon, School Nurses President Sandra McCauley, and Co-Presidents of the WHFP Georgina Dini and Marilyn Halligan.
“This report was better than we could have expected,” Carney said. “We hope it puts to rest the allegations some have made regarding the protocols followed by the school system.”