West Haven parents concerned about asbestos from construction project

File Photo of West Haven High School

WEST HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — After a recent West Haven High School construction project, parents are voicing their concerns about asbestos exposure to students and staff. Now, the Department of Public Health is investigating to see if proper procedures were followed.

The presence of asbestos has been well-documented in West Haven High School for several years. Following the installation of new surveillance cameras, parents once again became concerned over the cancer-causing mineral.

“Awful, disturbing. I was never informed,” said West Haven High School parent Maria Rivera. “I’m really worried now, like they never told me anything.”

West Haven Mayor Ed O’Brien says the city hired Hi-Tech Electricom to install around 100 new cameras last June.

“We selected them because they knew the school,” Mayor O’Brien stated.

A West Haven Board of Education member explained that Richard Dunn was hired by the board to do routine checks of asbestos seven months after the work was completed. After Dunn noticed the cameras, he began to investigate further.

In February, he released his findings which stated asbestos was disturbed and an “Abestos Management Planner did not oversee the work as required by Connecticut and EPA regulations.”

The report was posted on a West Haven social media page where it was rapidly shared online, raising concerns.

When asking Mayor O’Brien why a company with a professional who is licensed in asbestos abatement wasn’t used, the mayor responded, “I believe that’s a decision made by the Board of [Education].”

Members of the Board of Education referred questions back to the mayor. He was asked why an abatement specialist wasn’t called in.

“Because one was called in on a prior project in the same area,” Mayor O’Brien responded.

Mayor O’Brien believes the Dunn report is inaccurate, and with it being an election year, he believes it could have been politically motivated.

“They weren’t disturbing any asbestos in this project, he said. “They were using the same holes that were used. There was no drilling.”

The mayor again questioned the integrity of the report, stating what he believes to be inconsistencies between the report’s details and the work that was actually completed.

“The Dunn report talks about wires being pulled that weren’t pulled, holes being drilled that weren’t drilled. It shows pictures of areas that there was no work done on. So, the Dunn report was a flawed report,” Mayor O’Brien said.

Dunn refused to comment on his work.

In April, Mayor O’Brien hired Chemscope to look into the situation. The report stated that damage could have been caused prior to the project.

One thing the two reports do agree on is that a licensed asbestos professional was never hired for the job.

“I was very surprised because usually in a school this wouldn’t happen,” stated Mark Costantini of CPM Environmental.

Costantini has almost 20 years of experience when it comes to asbestos clean up with his company. That includes working in many schools.

After looking over both reports, Costantini said, “The individuals that did that work weren’t licensed to handle asbestos. It’s pretty clear.”

Costantini says even though air quality reports came back clean, he thinks dust wipe sampling should also be done.

“You’re testing the actual surface could be there. It could be physically there. An air sample is just what’s in the air,” he explained.

Costantini believes at the end of the day, West Haven should have hired an asbestos specialist. He also questions if the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, also known as “AHERA,” was followed.

These are federal laws schools with asbestos must follow. If they do not follow them, school districts can face fines.

“These regulations are in place to protect our children [and] our teachers and they need to be taken seriously,” Costantini said.

Mayor O’Brien feels like the school district was compliant with the AHERA act.

Scott Schwartz of West Haven Emergency Management said, “I think anytime that we should be working in a school now, I’m sure that we’re going to look into having a hygienist on scene to make sure everybody feels comfortable with it.”

The Department of Public Health released a statement on the situation. It read in part, “…there is no reason to believe the school population was exposed to asbestos as a result of the work done on this project.”

Parents just want safety procedures followed.

Don Froehlich, a West Haven High School parent, said, “If they did or [if] they circumvented something, then, they messed up.”

Rivera shared a similar sentiment, saying, “Always better to be safe than sorry.”

The Department of Public Health has released the following statement regarding the issue:

“We are still looking into the events surrounding this disturbance, including the timing of notifications. Our primary concern when we were notified was the health and safety of the staff and students, and with the timing of the disturbance coming after students and staff were gone for the summer, with the school being thoroughly cleaned over the summer and with test results showing no trace of asbestos in the air in the school, we are and remain confident that the school population was not exposed and the school remains safe to occupy with no exposure to asbestos at any level.”

In the statement, DPH also said, “Once we have a full picture of what happened, in terms of the notification, we can let you know, but until then, we are not available for an on camera interview. You may wish to contact the school or its contractor on the project to ask them why notification didn’t happen until November.”

The Environmental Protection Agency will not say whether or not it is investigating the incident.

The contractor who did the work, Hi-Tech Electricom’s Richard Shea, declined to comment.

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