Sunday, February 20, 2011

Asbestos Found at Uniontown High School

Company pulls workers from high school project

Posted: Sunday, February 20, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 9:36 am, Sun Feb 20, 2011.

Company pulls workers from high school project By Carla DeStefano Herald-Standard |

Firm cites asbestos concerns at Uniontown

A company involved in the Uniontown Area High School renovation project has pulled its workers from the site over concerns regarding the removal of asbestos.

"We decided to be on the safe side and not press our luck," said Ron Haniford, project manager for H.L. Thomas Inc of Vanderbilt. The subcontracted company is responsible for the sheet-metal work in the project and had sent a registered letter to the primary contactor stating it was pulling its workers from the job.

"We felt they weren't doing the proper abatement. That is something you just have to do right," Haniford said. "Any other job site with asbestos abatement, they seemed to have isolated the areas and sometimes put up plastic to isolate the area. This didn't seem to be the case at the high school. According to our foreman, we thought they had already proceeded with the asbestos abatement before the school board even voted on it."

Dr. Charles Machesky, district superintendent, insists that the asbestos has not been disturbed in the building and that environmental air reports are on file at the administration offices.

"I have no credible evidence from any reputable, licensed, environmental, asbestos-related source that tells me or anybody else in the Uniontown Area School District that there is asbestos in the air at the Uniontown high school," he said. "Until I receive that, I am operating under the assumption that it is safe

"If they don't want to do the work, they should quit and not come back. I'll be there Monday morning. I am in the high school almost every day," Machesky added.

Robert Smalley, district director of building and grounds, said he met with the four primary contractors on the job Friday, and all said they felt there were no problems with their workers in the buildings, with the exception of H.L. Thomas.

Smalley said abatement work is to begin in a ceiling in the old cafeteria on Monday. During the renovations project, as workers began to tear down the ceiling, they found a fixed system ceiling above it. Smalley said the old ceiling then tested positive for asbestos.

At a board meeting last week, Brian Kilgus, of Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates Architects said since the asbestos was discovered, the area has been sealed off and the contained air is being monitored.

Smalley said officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the main federal agency charged with the enforcement of health safety legislation, visited the school on Feb. 13 and deemed the area safe.

But workers on site have complained to school officials that the area was not sealed off properly and some work on the ceiling containing asbestos already had been started and that contractors had continued to work in the area. Workers also said it was almost a week after the asbestos was discovered before the area was sealed off.

The workers also discussed their concerns with the Herald-Standard but refused to give their names, citing concerns of reprisals.

"I don't know exactly when the plastic went up, but after it was sealed, we brought the consultant back in and did the air testing and it came back negative," Smalley said.

Smalley said contractors did remain in the area so that the lower ceiling could be removed in order for the abatement to be completed.

"I think they (construction workers) saw some places in the old ceiling that had been broken up and some holes, but those were there," Smalley said. "We were told not to disturb it and haven't touched that ceiling."

Workers also had expressed concern about clouds of asbestos-filled dust being blown into other areas of the school after air conditioners on the roof were turned on.

But Smalley said the air conditioner over the old cafeteria is a closed system.

"The fan there only connects to that room. It is self-contained," he said. "We know nothing could pull into the air vent, so we know nothing was discharging from it."

Machesky dismissed the complaints from the workers.

"Where do these people presume all the reports are coming from?'' asked Machesky. "OSHA has been there. The environmental people have been in there. The anonymous construction workers can stay home. There would not be teachers and students in that building if it weren't safe. There's no way we would allow that."

Smalley said there is minimal traffic in the area near the old cafeteria where asbestos was found. No classrooms are in the area and students have been moved from the band room as workers are set to begin renovations on that room.

The abatement company, Power Component Systems of Harrisburg, is expected to be on site Monday to set up and begin the process of eliminating the asbestos.

Principal Thomas Colebank said he is being briefed weekly on the renovation project and feels safe in the building.

"I trust what I am being told by the construction manager," he said. "I have had no information that says we are not safe."