When city workers came to freshen up the tired look of the dormitory area in Yonkers Fire Station No. 12, no one gave it much thought. Firefighters carried on their normal activities while Department of Public Works (DPW) construction workers tore up old vinyl floor tiles and painted the walls in the living space.
However, several laws were allegedly broken, and firefighters and public workers were placed in harm's way from asbestos exposure. The old floor tiles contained asbestos. DPW workers were exposed and so were the firefighters who were sleeping, working, and breathing in the work zone.
State and Federal Law: Asbestos Must Be Properly Removed Before Renovations Begin
New York State Law requires that prior to renovation, buildings must be surveyed for the presence of asbestos. If asbestos is found, it must be properly removed according to a strict state code. Until this is done, bids for renovation or renovation work cannot take place. This law follows the federal standards of the Clean Air Act and is intended to protect the public.
Yonkers city officials seemingly ignored these basic protections.
Asbestos removal is a hazardous job, and must be undertaken by trained and licensed personnel using protective gear. Bystanders and others in the building and nearby must be protected from exposure to asbestos dust, by thorough sealing of the work space to contain the dust during and after removal. Signage must warn of the hazards and no one except trained workers wearing hazmat suits can enter the work area. Afterwards, the air must be tested to assure that there is no asbestos dust remaining before the work zone can be reopened.
None of those precautions were taken at Yonkers' Fire Station No. 12 as is required by law, according to complaints filed by the Local 628 of the International Association of Firefighters on behalf of firefighters living in Station 12.
80 Firefighters and Their Families Exposed to Asbestos Dust, Says Union
"It is untenable that the [City of Yonkers] placed its employees at risk," said Local 628 President Barry McGoey to the Yonkers Tribune. "Not only were our firefighters and the DPW workers who removed the tiles put at risk, the City placed our families and the public at risk."
After doing its own initial investigation and finding asbestos in the piles of dust and debris left in the firefighters' living areas, the union filed its initial complaint on July 24, 2013. The union is still pursuing the case as they have not received a satisfactory explanation for the incident, and do not accept the findings of the inspection team that arrived only several months after the complaint was filed. The union alleges that 80 firefighters, and their families, may have been affected by asbestos exposure from the illegal work being performed in Station No. 12.