UPDATED: Dec. 15, 2021, with information about consent decree with Abatement Specialties.
Just a few years after being ordered to create educational videos to settle asbestos violations at Washington High School, the Cedar Rapids Community School District has been ordered to pay a penalty for similar violations at Kennedy High School.
Under the settlement with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the school district was ordered to comply with all asbestos regulations during future restorations, renovations and construction projects; require future contractors and subcontractors to submit a full scope of work for each project; and pay a $4,500 administrative penalty.
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Kennedy, 4545 Wenig Rd. NE, was hit hard by the August 2020 hurricane-strength derecho windstorm in Cedar Rapids, including the roof, which caused significant damage inside the 1967-built school; one of the newer buildings in the district.
Tom Wuehr of the DNR investigated an asbestos “disturbance” at Kennedy on Oct. 6, 2020, after reports from Jon Galbraith, the school district’s buildings and grounds manager, on Oct. 2, and Jamie Pappion, of Alliance Environmental Services, on Oct. 5.
Alliance had been hired by general contractor Perfection Property Restoration to monitor potential asbestos issues.
According to the administrative consent order, floor tiles buckled in room 251 at Kennedy due to the storm damage, and the school district informed Perfection Property Restoration about Chrysotile asbestos in the tiles.
Perfection Property workers used large fans in the room for ventilation and no precautions were taken in regards to asbestos, according to the order, and no asbestos regulations were followed for removal. The district was unaware of the issue until one month later.
Wipe and air tests revealed asbestos in room 251 and in the hallway, according to the order, and the material was dry and friable. Teachers and custodial staff may have been in the area, in addition to the workers, the order stated.
Wuehr directed Galbraith to close the school to allow only cleanup personnel, and the area was contained.
The DNR issued a notice of violation to the district on Oct. 27, 2020. The district responded the next month, stating that contractors and subcontractors will be required to provide a full review of the scope of work.
Attorney Kelli Book of the DNR’s Legal Services Bureau noted that the administrative consent order, issued Nov. 30, 2021, was agreed upon by the school district; thus the district agreed to pay the penalty assessed by the consent order and waived any right to appeal the consent order.
The order noted that the Cedar Rapids School District has past knowledge of asbestos regulations and had previous similar asbestos violations.
Those violations were settled between the state and the district in 2017, with a supplemental environmental project that involved the district producing a series of educational videos made available for other school districts.
Abatement Specialties, which was involved in the case at Washington High School from 2014-2015, was ordered in a November 2021 consent decree to pay a $40,000 civil penalty.
Subcontractors on the project at Washington High School described Abatement Specialties workers using hammers to break up asbestos-containing materials, pushing dry asbestos with a broom, vacuuming materials with a shop vac and otherwise causing the fibers to become airborne.
Violations alleged in that case included: failure to remove all regulated asbestos-containing material prior to demolition; failure to keep all regulated asbestos-containing material adequately wet; and failure to seal all asbestos-containing material in leak-tight containers.
Asbestos, a hazardous air pollutant, is a known cause of lung disease and cancer, called mesothelioma, which could occur years after exposure.
The order noted the school district’s culpability in the recent case at Kennedy High School.
“Proper asbestos mitigation did not occur prior to the renovation project,” the order stated. “As a result of prior violations, (the district) created asbestos training videos for other school districts and yet repeated the same violations that previously resulted in a referral to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.”
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