City of Worcester agrees to settlement over asbestos removal

By Nick Rees | Dec 10, 2009


BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - An agreement has been reached between the City of Worcester and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley to resolve allegations that vinyl asbestos tiles at the Vernon Hill School were improperly removed and disposed of by public school officials.

Judge Elizabeth Fahey signed off on the agreement in Suffolk Superior Court Thursday, requiring Worcester officials to develop and implement an environmental management system for its public schools. The Worcester Public Schools will also pay a $75,000 civil penalty, which will be waived if the EMS is completed by the city in accordance with the settlement agreement.

"The City of Worcester is taking a major step towards assuring that the students in the public schools are protected from environmental hazards in the schools by comprehensively addressing environmental issues," Coakley said. "This is a great outcome for Worcester and particularly for the students who attend the public schools."

Employees of the City of Worcester removed vinyl asbestos floor tiles over spring vacation in April 2007 without using a licensed asbestos contractor, Coakley's complaint alleged.

The cracked and broken pieces of vinyl asbestos floor tile from the school's auditorium, under the City's direction, were then placed in plastic bags, it is alleged. The plastic bags were then placed in cardboard drums, sealed with strapping or duct tape and placed between rows of lockers under the stage in the auditorium. The barrels, the complaint alleges, were not labeled properly by the city with asbestos warnings.

"MassDEP rules are in place to ensure that public health is protected through proper removal and handling of asbestos-containing materials," said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Laurie Burt. "The city is committing to an environmental management system that will ensure proper compliance in the future with these and other important health, safety and environmental requirements."

The vinyl asbestos tiles, according to the complaint, contained asbestos concentrations of approximately 33 to 42 percent. The complaint also alleges that the city did not seal the auditorium, which would keep fugitive dust from escaping, or employ an air filtration system to capture particulate asbestos fibers.

MassDEP, under discovering the violations, ordered the city to restrict access to the auditorium. A licensed asbestos contractor was then retained to properly remove, package and dispose of all asbestos waste materials and to thoroughly clean and decontaminate the auditorium and all affected areas of the school.

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