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P.R. Education Department To Spend $5.6 Million To Reduce Asbestos In Schools

Announcement comes after EPA warns department of noncompliance


March 10, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Department of Education officials insist the department’s efforts to address an asbestos problem in 497 public schools is up-to-date despite an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warning that violation of an abatement agreement could result in fines.

The department is already committed to spending $5.6 million in lieu of a fine in an abatement program agreed to in February 2004.

The Department of Education maintains it has been in compliance with the agreement even though the EPA said the department had failed to complete the required work within the prescribed time frames specified in the Consent Agreement & Final Order issued Feb. 13, 2004. "The EPA remains very concerned about the [department’s] failure to comply with the terms of the [consent agreement], which were specifically designed to protect the health and safety of people in the school system," said the letter signed by Dore La Posta, director of EPA Region 2 Division of Enforcement & Compliance Assistance.

The EPA said that according to a department status report, the department still had to complete eight Asbestos Management Plans, eight operations and maintenance plans, and 19 six-month periodic surveillance operations, and notify school directors and newspaper publications. In addition, the EPA said the department had yet to give 4,913 custodial and maintenance employees the required two-hour awareness training.

However, Antonio Rivera, director of environmental affairs for the Department of Education, said his records for monitoring and abating asbestos in the schools are up-to-date and speculated that erroneous information may have been reported to the EPA as the result of an administrative snafu during the change in government administrations.

Rivera explained the abatement of the asbestos is a continual, dynamic process involving the covering of patches of asbestos as they become exposed. This requires a continual inspection of the buildings every six months. Rivera insists the department was up-to-date on the inspections and abatement of the asbestos. In a case where the asbestos problem is extensive, the school is closed until abatement can be carried forward, said Rivera.

The EPA said review of the Asbestos Management Plans submitted by the department showed vital information missing from many of the plans, including school floor plans, sampling analysis reports, required signatures, response-action records, and periodic six-month surveillance reports.

Of the total 497 schools that could have asbestos in some area, 402 have definitively been identified as containing asbestos, 65 have been identified as needing remediation, and 31 have been the object of remediation efforts.

In a letter to the EPA, Department of Education Undersecretary of Administration Ángel Curbelo Soto said the department was committed to accomplishing the milestones set by the consent agreement. "Although our resources remain limited, we have allocated the personnel necessary to continue with the compliance program and have provided directives on the importance of implementing those measures necessary to achieve our commitments," said Curbelo.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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