Painters uncover very serious lead contamination at school renovations

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Schools are for pregnant teens and teen mothers; danger of lead exposure to young children

 

LEAD CONTAMINATED PAINT chips and dust on a stairwell in Sumner High School. – Painters & Allied Trades District Council 2 photo
LEAD CONTAMINATED PAINT chips and dust on a stairwell in Sumner High School.
– Painters & Allied Trades District Council 2 photo

1st in a Series

 

By MARY ANN HOLLY

Special Correspondent

The health and safety of hundreds of students and teaching staff in two St. Louis public high schools being remodeled are being jeopardized with potential lead poisoning as a result of the school District’s lax oversight of the general contractor’s hiring of two non-union painting subcontractors who do not meet the safety and training requirements demanded by the School District’s own Request for Proposal (RFP).

And to make matters even worse, the two high schools - Sumner and Roosevelt – will teach pregnant girls and teen moms with infants as part of the District’s efforts to keep them in school so they can complete their education. Both schools will have facilities and care for the babies and young children while moms are in class.

According to the Mayo Clinic even small amounts of lead exposure can cause serious health problems. Children under the age of six are especially vulnerable, with the effects of lead poisoning causing the potential for impaired mental and physical development. At very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal.

NO LEAD CONTAINMENT

“There is lead-based paint present in those schools and there’s no containment and no oversight to protect the children going back to those schools,” said Page Lucks, an organizer for Painters & Allied Trades District Council 2.

There is serious lead contamination in both schools, the School District finally admitted after the fact, and only after being challenged at a specially-called meeting June 27 of the School District’s oversight board by Painters District Council 2 staff who had already conducted their own investigation.

“Preliminary findings indicate the presence of lead dust in excess of Federal and State standards exists in both schools where contractors are working,” said a July 1 statement released by the School District after the painter’s challenge.

LOW BID CUTTING CORNERS?

Both the general contractor – Raineri Construction - and the painting subcontractors -Huddy Painting (at Sumner) and Rice Painting (at Roosevelt) - are non-union companies. Raineri’s bid for the work was $1.8 million below that of other bids, which were all in the same ballpark.

The reasons for the extremely low bid become clear when the facts about the qualifications of the two non-union painting companies were brought to light by the Painters Union, facts which clearly show that neither company fulfills the qualifications established by the School Board’s RFP, the Painters charge:

• Neither the two painting contractors nor Raineri are licensed or certified to do toxic cleanup and hazardous waste removal.

• None are following OSHA or EPA standards for dealing with lead paint removal which includes containment of the old paint as its being removed and appropriate protective clothing and breathing apparatuses for the workers.

• None have the required 10-hour safety training. One of the scab painters interviewed by the union didn’t even know what that was, Lucks said.

• No background checks were obviously conducted as required since the Painters did their own checks (from license plates) and found that three of the workers have criminal backgrounds.

• The 40 percent minority requirements are not being met. Last week, Lucks observed that Rice had 14 workers and Huddy had six to eight workers, and none were minorities.

Covert inspection tells the story

Cell phone videos taken by members of the Painter’s Union inside Sumner  and Roosevelt shows buckets of debris and paint chips scattered everywhere; workers are sweeping up the paint chips, potentially hazardous material, using janitorial dust mops and dropping them in plastic bags that did not meet federal disposal requirements.

Additionally, desks, chairs, library cases with books throughout the schools have no protective coverings and have paint dust covering them.

Poisonous debris has worked its way into almost every square inch of space, including classrooms, hallways and those same areas where students will congregate next month when the new school year begins, Lucks said.

COMPANY DENIES LEAD; INSPECTION SHOWS OTHERWISE

Once the lead issue became public, the general contractor is reported to have said the painters videos are fake, that the paint chips everyone’s concerned about have no lead and later said that the dust in the schools was not created by his painters, and that if it was lead dust, it had to be brought in.

One of the painter subcontractors was reported on KTVI on June 27 saying that the paint chips have no lead and that his workers did nothing wrong.

However, on July 1, KTVI reported that as a result of the painter’s charges, the School District did send it its own hazmat team to investigate and that they DID find lead present in both high school that exceeds state and federal standards.

The School District said that Raineri Construction has agreed to clean up the problem at their cost. Raineri wouldn’t say if he intended to hire someone certified and licensed for lead abatement or will do it himself.

push for safe remediation

St. Louis Alderman Joe Vaccaro presented a resolution to the Board of Alderman last week asking that the city intervene by creating an oversight committee to ensure the RFP is followed as a way of ensuring the children’s safety in both schools. The issue was tabled, but the St. Louis Board of Aldermen is supposed to hold a special meeting this week to discuss the issue.

During debate on ensuring the children’s safety, four St. Louis aldermen spoke out against the resolution, saying the School Board should police its own contracts; the very same School Board that has allowed the current contractors to ignore the Board’s own RFP requirements and said nothing, and did nothing until the Painters intervened. The four are Ward 3 Alderman Freeman Bosley Sr., Ward 6 Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia, Ward 19 Alderwoman Marlene Davis and Ward 20 Alderman Craig Schmidt.

School District officials said until the painting cleanup process is completed and both buildings are deemed clear of any lead paint dust levels, the schools are off-limits to students and staff. On July 1 the School District and its construction management team met with the Raineri to review the independent findings and develop proposed solutions.

After cleanup, the School District’s HAZMAT consultant will conduct independent testing to validate the contractor’s remediation efforts prior to students or staff occupying the school buildings.

The painter’s videos are available on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raiQD6jj5BQ;http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ykPC4xZ114;http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihKUVCI3Zz8http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQx9j4A9o80 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSnaeTWT8IM.

 

Upset? Call School District and let them know: 345-4669

The money for the renovation of the two St. Louis high schools comes from Proposition S passed by voters.

If you read this story and are understandably upset, you are urged to call the District’s Executive Director of Operations/Building Commissioner Roger CayCe at 314-345-4669 and let him know that what the School District has done bringing in unqualified painters whose work can potentially harm students, is totally unacceptable.

This is not a union vs non-union issue. It’s a matter of safety and getting the paint removal done according to approved state and federal standards.

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