The assertions of a former occupational safety officer alleging the city’s school system mishandled asbestos and mold removal at a number of schools have been summarily dismissed by the district in a new report released late Thursday afternoon and cited by the superintendent to assert school buildings are “environmentally safe.”
The district followed the required guidelines to remove asbestos and mold at various school buildings, according to the report. It also states the air quality, poor ventilation, and high carbon dioxide issues reported at the Colt Street building home to Harp and Yes Academies lead to the district putting the landlord of the building on notice and issuing a “severe” financial penalty of $83,000.
The report prepared by district facilities director Steve Morlino, who is named in the lawsuit filed by former environmental occupational health and safety officer Brenda Zemo, rebuts many of her allegations. For example, Zemo alleged the district used untrained employees to remove an asbestos laden door from Eastside High School. Morlino’s report states 15 doors were removed by Haz-Mat Diagnostics for $4,248 and properly disposed.
District carpenters were used to install replacement doors, according to the report. There’s no license or certification in New Jersey for mold removal. There are no federal regulations or standards for airborne mold contaminants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has guidelines for mold remediation and suggests hiring professionals to remediate an area greater than 100 square feet, reads the report.
Morlino’s resume states he has a New Jersey school mold certification. When asked about his certification, he said it was obtained after he completed a class with a private company. He reiterated there is no license or certification for mold removal.
The tiles removed from a School 12 classroom that Zemo alleged were discovered to contain asbestos tested negative. “No asbestos was detected in the floor tiles in the room in question,” reads the report.
Most mold conditions in the district are “minor in nature” like ceiling tile repair or addressing water infiltration close to a window. The painting foreman is aware of procedures to remove minor mold areas and efflorescence caused by water infiltration, states the report. Zemo alleged the district used untrained and uncredentialed staff to remove mold at six schools — School 25, School 24, School 10, School 4, Boris Kroll, and School 30.
Morlino prepared the detailed report which was made public late Thursday afternoon by the district following a contentious meeting with teachers’ union leaders. “They set us up yesterday. They knew that meeting wasn’t going to end well,” said John McEntee, president of the Paterson Education Association, the teachers union, on Friday morning. “They’re trying to get ahead of the story because they know they’re in trouble.”
State-appointed district superintendent Donne Evans’ sent the report and a memorandum to district staff and board members stating union officials rejected receipt of the report and demanded copies of all data used to produce it.
Evans’ memo states the data relied upon to produce the report is more than 100,000 pages. The district offered to provide access to “every single record,” but that offer was also rejected by union leaders who left the district headquarter meeting room. The district is open to allowing an expert hired by the union access to the records, said Evans’ memo.
McEntee said the district told him the data could not be provided prior to the meeting due to litigation, but it would be given to the union at the meeting. At the meeting he said the union was told the data was at each of the district’s 57 schools. “They’re trying everything in their power to withhold this information from us,” he said. “I got a funny suspicion the district doesn’t want any of this coming out.”
Morlino said the union can send its expert to his office and he will provide the 100,000 pages of documents for inspection.
McEntee asked the superintendent whether he would write a letter to all staff members stating the presentation would exonerate the district of any illness a student or member may have or will develop. He said the superintendent did not directly respond to his query. The superintendent in a post-meeting statement stated the district’s buildings are safe.
“That memo was specifically sharing a report that provided proof that those building are environmentally safe and that there is no evidence to the contrary,” said Evans in a statement. “And if there was an issue we would be addressing it.”
“There’s nothing in there that’s going to say he did something wrong,” said McEntee of the district’s report prepared by the facilities director.
The union urged all its members to get medical checkups done as a safety measure. It also urged parents of students to take their children to physicians and get them checked. He said his main concern is for the health of the students and his members.
“I wouldn’t be able to go home and sleep at night knowing someone’s mom or dad may not be here for Christmas or Hanukkah several years from now because of a mistake we should have jumped on. I rather make an enemy at the district than lose one of my brothers or sisters in this union because of a mistake made down there.”