Granby Middle Park High teacher resigns over asbestos, but state says material didn’t pose hazard
March 14, 2008
A former automotive and welding teacher at Middle Park High School quit his position mid-contract in February for reasons concerning possible asbestos hazards in the welding classroom.Steve Broshous resigned, he said, because he felt he was working in an environment that may be detrimental to his and his students health.But word from industrial hygienists at the Colorado Department of Health and Environment say the asbestos material over which Broshous left his job may not be hazardous. A total of six asbestos panels that lined the wall behind the gas welding set-ups at the school were made of Cementitous (Transite) Panels, and short of taking a power sander or a hammer to the material to destroy the matrix of it, that material does not readily release fiber into the air, according to the asbestos inspections department of the health department.Even so, Middle Park High School administration had the panels removed in January in response to four months of Broshous pleas.We spent $2,450 to try and have it abated to allay his concerns, said East Grand School District Superintendent Robb Rankin.In a Middle Park High School Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) inspection report by Allen R. Bartels dated May, 10, 2007, provided to the newspaper by Broshous, it states that non-friable asbestos wall panels were in fact damaged. Broshous took photos and a video of the panels showing how they were cracked and full of holes.Up until January, these panels remained in the welding room used for many years as a heat barrier. Broshous was the first of a series of welding teachers since the buildings construction in 1981 to complain to administration about the panels.In the AHERA report, the recommended response action for the school was to remove the panels as soon as possible. The report gave the school from Aug. 8, 2007, to May, 9, 2010, to take care of the problem.Broshous, who says he is trained in asbestos abatement through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, started working for the district last August, and when he became aware of the asbestos panels, began bringing his concerns to the high school principal, superintendent and school board president.Because of the damage to the panels, he feared asbestos particles may have become airborne.Transite panels usually are made up of about 35 percent asbestos and 65 percent Portland cement, then made into sheets. Its very difficult to break this material, according to industrial hygienists, even when removing it. Where exposure to airborne friable asbestos may result in a potential health risk from breathing in asbestos fibers, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, non-friable asbestos, unless broken up, is a minor risk and only at the time it is disturbed, according to the state.From September until January, Broshous urged the administration to provide him a document assuring him that the air in the welding room was safe. Seeing little response from administrators, Broshous said he sought help from contractors and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. The teacher said he was willing to pay for testing and removal himself, but the department and contractors would not get involved without a go-ahead from the school district.In January, according to a Feb. 20 letter from Broshous addressed to the school outlining the series of events that led to his resignation, a letter Rankin said he has never seen, after several students parents showed concern, the asbestos was masked off with plastic by district maintenance staff.Rankin said to his knowledge, Broshous is the sole individual who has ever raised concerns about air quality in the welding area.No student ever complained, and I did not receive one parent comment, he said.The reports show that there is no danger present in the room that would suggest that we need to take immediate action, wrote Middle Park High Principal Dale Flemming to Broshous in a January e-mail. … The decision was made that the panel in question would be replaced when it was feasible to do so because it did not need to be immediately replaced. With the bond election pending, the decision was to replace the material as soon as the money was available to do so. The material does not pose a threat to you or the students unless you drill, saw, sand, or nail into these panels. The material is currently encapsulated in plastic and sealed off from the air. It is time to move on and spend your time with the betterment of the students in the classroom. Your supervision of the area will ensure that there will not be dangers to you or the students. Dale.Following the week the panels were covered in plastic, the panels were taken down on Feb. 2 by Custom Environmental Services of Arvada.Broshous said he witnessed the removal of the asbestos through a window from the automotive building that day, and found no evidence of a necessary containment area and proof that proper asbestos removal procedures were followed. When he returned to his classroom on Monday, there was material still left on the floor from the removal, he said. Any asbestos exposure can raise concern, said a state inspector, but the amount one would consider from that material would be an unmeasurable amount.Non-friable materials are not required under state regulations to be removed with special containment and abatement like friable materials are, the inspector said.Broshous became worried about exposure to airborne asbestos fibers after the panels were removed. Because the administration failed to supply him with requested results from an air quality test, he turned in his resignation.He left here angry, Rankin said, suggesting that his real reason for leaving may have been from an altercation that occurred between he and the principal in front of students.Rankin is not new to asbestos concerns. The old middle school that has since been torn down cost the district around $500,000 in asbestos removal and abatement.To date, we have a spotless record in terms of how asbestos problems are treated, Rankin said.I shared health concerns related to students to the administration, but they did nothing but butt heads with me, Broshous said.On Thursday, Rankin produced a report dated March 7 from data collected the day the panels were taken down by Custom Environmental Services, showing that the air quality in the welding room is within acceptable limits. But it wasnt just the asbestos panels. Broshous also believed the ventilation system in the welding lab to be inadequate for a classroom of 15 welders. Hed clean out soot from his nostrils upon returning home from work, he said. This is the first that Ive heard of that, Rankin said when asked about Broshous complaints regarding the welding ventilation at the high school.For bringing up these concerns, both the asbestos and the welding facility, the former welding teacher said he was not treated well by the administration. After this transpired, I have had an unacceptable level of negativity and prejudice placed upon me in doing my job, he wrote in his letter to the school. Everyone in the district had a hard time making him happy, Rankin said.The superintendent added that not once during his request to sever his contract did Broshous say he was leaving due to environmental health concerns.From working for teachers wages the past three years, Broshous said yesterday that he cant afford an attorney to take on the district.I continue to concern myself over the safety and health of past and present students as well as myself and other instructors who may have been exposed, his letter states. I, as well as many students, have been personally wronged by the E.G.S.D administration and would like help in identifying how the EGSD administration has let this happen. Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.