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The Niagara County-owned Shaw Building received asbestos violations from The Public Employee Safety and Health (PESH) Bureau earlier this summer and an update has finally been released at a legislature meeting.
The state report issued a “notice of violation and order to comply” and has classified the eight listed violations as “serious,” so County Manager Jeff Glatz discussed the possible exposure workers at Shaw may have had to the hazardous material and the steps being taken.
On top of the presence of asbestos, one of the violations concerned a junction box with a missing cover. The wires in the box tested live. “To me, the most serious is the junction box that has a missing cover. That one, we can’t get at because we have to have the room cleared and abated,” said Glatz.
The location of the box is proving to be problematic because it is in a crawl space near material containing asbestos. To fix the issue, a worker would have to potentially be exposed to asbestos, or the area needs to be abated first. Glatz is hoping to work something out with PESH that will allow workers to first abate the room before fixing the box.
One of the violations stated that the county didn’t hang proper warning signs to warn workers of the presence or location of asbestos in the building. The warning signs have since been added.
Glatz has interviewed 14 people in his investigation and three more are in the works before he plans to complete it. “I think it is important that we have taken a serious approach. We are still conducting the investigation,” stated Glatz. “Upon completion of the remediation and compliance issues, we will ask PESH to come back for a follow-up walk-through.”
An estimated $50,000 to $100,000 will be spent to clear the crawl space and fix the junction box. 480 man-hours and $27,000 have been spent on this violation to date.
Regarding other violations, Niagara County has completed asbestos awareness training with 100 employees, but still has 150 left.
In terms of the asbestos in the dumpster, Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said, “He [the county’s public information officer] is reporting it wasn’t a serious event and the county is in the clear. There was asbestos in that dumpster. Somebody had to pick it up from that room, bring it and put it in the dumpster. Somebody was exposed to asbestos.”
Virtuoso feels the officer is downplaying the situation. “Plus, there is potential that could have been airborne during that travel time from the crawl space to the dumpster. That is a serious, serious thing,” Virtuoso added.
Virtuoso also believes Glatz and the Niagara County Risk Management Director Jennifer R. Pitarresi “interrogated” the witness Ryan Mack, who supposedly carried the asbestos from the building to the dumpster.
According to Virtuoso, Mack shared that he received a letter, asking him to meet and review his benefits. After arrival, “he was bombarded” with interrogation and was not allowed to record the interview questions. He said, “The kid walked in there not knowing anything. He thought he was there to talk about his benefits.”
“It wasn’t an interrogation, it was to ask questions because he went to the press and made some allegations that he had actually carried the asbestos out of the dumpster,” said Glatz.
“He was not bombarded, nor was he ambushed. He knew he was coming to talk us,” said Pitarresi. She said he was allowed to record the interview, but requested to not share it with any other witness or media as to not affect the testimony.
In addition, she mentioned Mack was first called several times to cooperate with PESH and never picked up or returned the calls. And upon learning what the interview was about, “he was not cooperative, he began lying immediately.”
“He was also told, like we told every witness, this was not a criminal proceeding. It was not a disciplinary proceeding. He had every right to tell us he did not want to speak with us. He did not say any of that. The concern was for his safety,” added Pitarresi.
Furthermore, according to Pitarresi, the county was attempting to resolve the problem that occurred with an ideal solution. He stated perhaps some of the asbestos came from the room in the Shaw building, some from the jail, and some from other buildings.
“There wasn’t anything airborne,” she claimed. “Could we have done better? Yes. Did anything tragic happen? Thank God, no.”