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Niagara County government faces another asbestos complaint

LOCKPORT – Niagara County has another asbestos issue on its hands, but this time it’s been, in a sense, swept under the rug.

The installation of new carpeting in the County Clerk’s office last month may have resulted in the unprotected removal of floor tiles that probably contained asbestos.

However, the scene has now been covered with the new carpeting, and the removed material has been disposed of.

Tuesday, two inspectors from the state Labor Department’s Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau visited the County Courthouse. They took samples of floor tiles and carpet glue, according to William Rutland, president of the county’s blue-collar employees’ union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The samples will be tested, and in the meantime, no warnings or restrictions on use of the clerk’s office have been posted.

However, with the old carpeting and the floor tiles beneath it already landfilled, Rutland said, “It’s too late” to prove how much exposure there was, if any.

He’s the same man whose complaint about the removal of loose asbestos last May from a basement crawl space in the Shaw Building, headquarters of the county Health and Mental Health departments, led to a lengthy investigation.

On that occasion, welfare recipients working in exchange for benefits carried some loose asbestos to a dumpster.

On Jan. 26 and 27, county maintenance workers, assisted by welfare workers, were assigned to remove and replace 19-year-old carpet in the clerk’s office, newly occupied by Joseph A. Jastrzemski. He was elected clerk in November to replace Wayne F. Jagow, who retired after 20 years in office.

A county official who was not authorized to speak on the record said the old carpet had been glued to the floor tile, and when the carpet was pulled up, the tile came up with it.

Rutland said it was 9-inch tile, which implies the presence of asbestos. Since asbestos, a fire retardant, was proven to cause cancer, manufacturers generally produce asbestos-free tile in other sizes to avoid confusion with the older material.

County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said, “If the stories are what they say they are, the carpet never should have been pulled up.”

Glatz said Jeffrey E. Gaston, the county’s buildings and grounds director, who joined the county after the Shaw Building episode, told him the floor seemed to have been swept clean before the new carpet was installed.

Glatz said in the aftermath of the Shaw Building episode, county workers were trained, at the state’s order, on how to recognize and avoid asbestos.

“It’s really frustrating and unbelievable,” Glatz said. “You see Mr. Rutland on Facebook criticizing the management. It was people they (AFSCME) represent, and they didn’t make anything known for 11 days … Why is it so hard to follow the rules?”

Rutland responded, “I would say it’s a little early to be placing blame.”