Mesothelioma Alert: School Custodians Improperly Removed Asbestos Floor Tiles

07/19/2010 // Chicago, IL, USA // Cooney & Conway // Mesothelioma attorneys: Cooney & Conway

(Mesothelioma News) While children from a summer camp and a drivers’ education program were present, two school custodians lacking certification for asbestos work removed and improperly disposed of floor tiles comprised of the cancer-causing material. Their actions—which took place last summer—have resulted in a $2,500 fine to the school district and worries that children, workers, and others nearby were exposed to asbestos.

Asbestos—long linked to deadly health conditions including lung cancer and mesothelioma, a nearly always fatal cancer of the lining that covers many of the body’s organs—is particularly dangerous when airborne, according to mesothelioma lawyers and researchers.

That makes any kind of removal or renovation involving asbestos risky, because asbestos particles can be released into the air and easily inhaled. While asbestos-related diseases—especially mesothelioma—can take years to develop, once diagnosed, a patient’s outlook is usually bleak.

At the school—Lakeland High School in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley—the custodians removed detached and damaged tiles containing asbestos from up to 10 classrooms, as reported by the New York State Department of Labor. Neither of the custodians was licensed to dispose of the material, violating state asbestos regulations

The presence of the asbestos-containing tiles itself was not surprising. “It’s a pretty common thing in older buildings, those floor tiles,” stated Jean Genovese, a spokesperson for the Labor Department.

But any removal of asbestos-containing material must be performed according to strict guidelines designed to reduce the risk of asbestos exposure and, ultimately, the possibility of diseases like mesothelioma. That, officials say, was not done at the school.

“Prying tiles off the floor could result in some breakage and the creation of some fine asbestos-containing debris that could be problematical,” said Yancey Roy, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

Janitor Carmine Di Bernardo, stated that neither he nor the other custodian were issued any protective gear for the asbestos removal work and that the tiles were disposed of in school trash receptacles without any warning that they contained asbestos. Di Bernardo, who claims he was transferred to another school in retaliation for speaking out about the asbestos removal, said that “all of these kids were exposed to it.”

Both men—along with the head custodian who authorized the work—received letters faulting them for the asbestos removal. The Labor Department issued a notice of violation on Feb. 10 to the Lakeland Central School District. Improper handling of asbestos in school settings is not unusual, and other school districts across the country have been hit with similar fines.

While asbestos exposure is a health risk for anyone who inhales asbestos fibers, it is particularly troubling when children are involved, since the long period between exposure and disease means that they may be struck down with deadly mesothelioma or lung cancer in the prime of their lives, when they could have young families of their own to support and care for.

Mesothelioma lawyers have seen significant success obtaining large—often multimillion-dollar—settlements and verdicts in asbestos lawsuits, but medical researchers have made less progress. Mesothelioma survival rates, for example, have not significantly improved over the years.

As a result of the unauthorized work, the Lakeland School District is working with the Labor Department to improve employee training. It will also spend from $50,000 to $100,000 for asbestos work when it renovates the auditorium in Van Cortlandtville Elementary School.

The expense is necessary, a district official said—every last tile in the auditorium contains asbestos.

This news story was brought to you by the mesothelioma lawyers at Cooney & Conway. For more than half a century, we’ve brought relief—and recovery—for those injured by the negligence or harmful actions of others. In the process, we’ve litigated some of the country’s most significant asbestos lawsuits, helping victims of mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related diseases get answers—and justice.

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