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An asbestos report on the Shaw Building in Niagara County has been anxiously awaited by residents of the county, (especially those who work in the building,) but has been held up by a government investigation.
Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, Minority Leader, requested information on the investigation from Jeffrey Glatz, County Manager, to share what occurred, but Glatz says the agencies involved have yet to finish their investigation.
“Everybody knows there is asbestos in the building,” stated Glatz. CSEA employees and public welfare workers were at Shaw removing “some equipment and materials in the basement.”
According to Glatz, the President of American Federation, County and Municipal Employees Local 182, William Rutland, was the one who filed a claim that AFSCME employees were exposed to asbestos in the Shaw Building and contacted the Director of Risk Management, Jennifer Pitarresi, inquiring about the happenings at Shaw.
Pitarresi began her investigation, but the Acting Director of Buildings and Grounds, Mary Bergman, wasn’t available and Rutland was about to contact the New York State Department of Labor Employee Safety and Health Division (PESH) because the dumpsters where the supposed asbestos was placed in were about to be removed.
PESH eventually arrived to do safety interviews and an investigation in tandem with the Asbestos Control Bureau (ACB) who took care of figuring out whether the dumpsters did or did not contain asbestos from the Shaw Building.
At first, PESH took air quality samples, which resulted in a negative test result to asbestos and its fibrous materials. On the other hand, ACB did find asbestos material inside the dumpsters and therefore an asbestos abatement company will be hired to remove it.
However, the duct tape that had been placed over the supposed asbestos-contaminated pipe in the basement seemed to be disturbed the next day, leading Glatz to believe that work crews or someone else was back in the basement disturbing the infected air, which resulted in PESH’s return for more testing.
PESH was taking too long and so the DEC and EPA were called.
“So what we basically had was possible incidental contact with asbestos material,” said Glatz. “Nobody that has been interviewed and talked to can confirm that they actually saw or actually picked up a piece of this asbestos and brought it to the dumpster. So right now it’s anybody’s guess how that actually got there because we don’t have any eyewitness testimony.”
Richard Updegrove, R-Lockport, Majority Leader, said that whether or not there was a health risk, “we would still want to know if any asbestos was disturbed. If it was disturbed, we want to know who disturbed it, who removed it, how it was removed, how it was disposed of, and at who’s direction.”
According to Updegrove, if whoever was responsible was also negligent or in violation of any rules or regulations, then they’d “be held accountable and face disciplinary action.” Coincidentally, Rutland did not bring up the asbestos safety issue until one of the dumpsters was removed.
“We care about the safety of these employees. The testing has come back negative for airborne particles, which is the most dangerous part about asbestos. That has been good enough for CSEA,” said Pitarresi. “Bill has complained that he is not happy with what the government has been doing in their investigation so he's called other agencies and continues calling other agencies.”