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State tests show no asbestos danger in Niagara clerk’s office

LOCKPORT – Niagara County officials and a union leader said Friday that state testing in the Niagara County clerk’s office showed no danger resulting from the removal of floor tiles containing asbestos in late January.

“Air sampling came back negative,” County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said.

Jennifer R. Pitarresi, risk and insurance director, said tests on “mastic,” or glue, taken Feb. 9 from a corner of the office floor was negative for asbestos.

William Rutland, president of the county’s blue-collar union, said the tests showed the floor tiles contain asbestos, but he agreed they present no danger if they are not disturbed.

On Jan. 26 and 27, members of Rutland’s union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, assisted some welfare workers in removing and replacing some 19-year-old carpet in the private office of newly elected clerk Joseph A. Jastrzemski. The old carpet was glued to the floor tile beneath it, and the tile came up with the rug.

The old carpet, glue and tile were tossed into a dumpster and hauled away to a landfill before it could be tested, but the same type of tile, measuring 9 inches across, is laid down throughout the public areas of the office. Rutland said a 9-inch tile is almost certain to contain asbestos. Since the material was shown to cause cancer, makers of building materials have been manufacturing asbestos-free floor tile in other sizes to prevent confusion.

“I think the law says you can’t disturb them unless you have a licensed asbestos-removal team,” Rutland said.

The incident came in the wake of training sessions for county employees after an incident at the Shaw Building, headquarters of the Health and Mental Health departments, last May, in which asbestos that had fallen to the floor from pipe insulation was carried out of a basement crawl space and placed in a dumpster by welfare workers without precautions being taken. The county had to hire a disposal firm and spent almost $100,000 on a proper cleanup of the crawl space.

Asked whose fault the latest incident was, Rutland said, “That’s not for me to say. My guys take orders.”