Paterson, NJ Schools Sued for Mishandling Asbestos Removal

Illustration of legal cases for asbestos and mesothelioma

Former Paterson Schools Environmental Officer Brenda Zemo says the district improperly handled asbestos with complete disregard of federal regulations.

Due to losing her job and being mistreated for expressing her concerns, she’s suing for an order, reinstatement, or compensation pay as well as an order from the district that prohibits employees from retaliating against her.

Zemo had been an Environmental Occupational Health and Safety Officer since 2008. She was in charge of making sure the district provided a safe, healthy environment for its 23,000 students and 5,400 staff members.

After raising concerns about the mishandled asbestos in the schools, Zemo says she was mistreated by the Facilities Department and its Executive Director Steve Morlino.

After she filed the compliant, she was reassigned to the business department. Shortly after that, she was let go from her position as the district deemed her report “unfounded.”

Apparently Morlino did not take her advice to hire licensed asbestos contractors and instead had unlicensed school personnel remove asbestos tiles in a School 12 classroom.

Licensed asbestos contractors are important because the dangerous substance must be handled with great care. It’s classified as a known carcinogen. When in good condition, it does not present a hazard. When worn or damaged, it poses a great risk to the health and safety of humans.

The asbestos fibers may flake off and become airborne. At that point, it’s possible for anyone in the vicinity to inhale the toxic fibers, which in turn, can become embedded in the chest. Years later, victims of asbestos exposure can develop serious diseases such as asbestosis or mesothelioma cancer.

Mesothelioma cancer is a rare, aggressive form of cancer that primarily develops in the lining of the lungs or the abdomen. It has no known cure and a poor prognosis.

Rather than having the asbestos taken to a proper landfill, Morlino had it improperly stored at the school facilities site at 200 Sheridan Avenue. By New Jersey state law, asbestos waste must be disposed of in designated landfills, where the area is prepped for the hazardous chemical in an effort to limit environmental exposures. The waste is then sealed to prevent human exposure.

These specialized landfills have been designed by the federal government with run-on control systems, runoff management systems, and wind dispersal management systems. They’re typically covered with a particular mix of soil.

Also, under Morlino’s authority, construction debris and dust was left at the 5 Colt Street site. This is in violation of Indoor Air Quality Standards.