Lead paint removal at Sumner, Roosevelt does not meet EPA guidelines; school administration lax on ensuring safety
2nd in a Series
By ED FINKELSTEIN
Lead is toxic to everyone, but unborn babies and young children are at greatest risk for health problems from lead poisoning — their smaller, growing bodies make them more susceptible to absorbing and retaining lead.
– Kids Health from Nemours, a children’s health system
The two painting sub-contractors doing the paint removal and repainting of Sumner and Roosevelt High Schools in St. Louis City have shown callous disregard for protecting the environment, the children who will be in the two schools and their own employees from the possibility of lead poisoning.
What makes the issue more pressing, Roosevelt and Sumner are being renovated so that the school system can provide facilities for pregnant teens and teens with young babies who will be able to bring the young children to school and be attended to while mom is in class.
LONG LIST OF VIOLATIONS
In their investigation of two non-union, unlicensed, non-certified painting contractors – Huddy Painting and Rice Painting -- by Painters & Allied Trades District Council 2, the union discovered:
• Neither of the contractors have any certification to handle hazardous materials, a certification required by the School Board’s Request for Proposals (RFP)
• The contractors are blowing paint dust directly out the windows into the neighborhoods surrounding the schools.
At Sumner, an industrial fan placed at an open window was the only equipment used to filter the lead-based airborne particles out of the building. The poisonous dust and debris blows out onto the street, as children play kickball at the daycare just 30 feet away.
• The non-union painters are working inside the buildings without personal protective gear such as respirators and other appropriate clothing required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
• To collect the thousands of lead-based paint chips that have fallen to the floors as they prepare for repainting, the non-union painters are simply sweeping them up and putting them in regular trash bags which are not certified bags designed to contain contaminated materials. Where the bags are being deposited was not determined by the Painters investigation.
LOW BID; BUT AT WHOSE EXPENSE?
According to Gregg Smith, business manager/special trustee for Painters District Council 2, there are strict regulations covering the removal and disposal of lead-based paint, regulations that have to be taken into account when a contractor bids on a project.
The general contractor is Raineri Construction, a non-union general contractor, whose bid was $1.8 million below all other bids.
“It’s no wonder Raineri could so drastically underbid all the other contractors,” Smith said, pointing out the pre-qualifications process alone for employees who will work in lead paint removal — blood testing, OSHA 10 training, background checks, etc.— plus the required containment efforts to avoid contamination, none of which were, or are, being done certainly saved the contractor money, but at whose expense?
“They are not doing any of those things,” he said, pointing out, for example, that a painter’s investigation shows that three of the workers have criminal backgrounds.
“The bottom line, this is not a union issue right now, it’s a matter of safety for the neighborhood kids, the kids with young babies and who are pregnant coming into the school and the school’s staff,” he added.
WHY THE CONCERN?
Even if Roosevelt and Sumner were not providing facilities for pregnant teens and teens with young babies, the potential for series medical problems exists for anyone in the schools.
“When the body is exposed to lead — by being inhaled, swallowed, or in a small number of cases, absorbed through the skin — it can act as a poison,” says Kids Health, an on-line information service by Nemours, a children’s health system.
“Lead is toxic to everyone, but unborn babies and young children are at greatest risk for health problems from lead poisoning — their smaller, growing bodies make them more susceptible to absorbing and retaining lead,” the Kids Health report adds.
Notes the report: “Most commonly, kids get lead poisoning from lead-based paint…”
LEAD POISONING IMPACT ON CHILDREN
A report from the Seattle & King County Public Health Department, lead poisoning in kids has dramatic impacts on the children:
• Learning disabilities resulting in a decreased intelligence (decreased IQ);
• Attention deficit disorder;
• Behavior issues;
• Nervous system damage;
• Speech and language impairment;
• Decreased muscle growth; and
• Decreased bone growth.
Adds the report solemnly, “High levels of lead are life threatening and can cause seizures, unconsciousness, and death.”
ADULTS AT RISK TOO
And it’s not only children at risk.
According to reports, adults are at risk as well, which means the schools’ teaching staffs:
• Increased chance of illness during pregnancy;
• Harm to a fetus, including brain damage or death;
• Fertility problems in both men and women;
• High blood pressure;
• Digestive issues;
• Nerve disorders;
• Memory and concentration problems; and
• Muscle and joint pain.
“The public needs to be aware of what the school administration has allowed to happen,” Smith added. “I can’t image parents not being upset about this very real hazard their children will be facing.”
It was not until the details of the painters investigation were made public at a school board meeting, the school district met with Raineri who said he would clean up the buildings at his own expense.
“With paint dust flying outside and getting into the cracks and crevices of the schools inside, to say nothing of it being deposited on equipment, desks, library books, shelving and so much more, real cleanup will be impossible,” Lucks pointed out.
(Some information in this story contributed by Special Correspondent Mary Ann Holly.)