School OK after asbestos cleared

Contractor may face charges for moving contaminated tiles inside Shady Side


Shady Side Elementary School has been declared safe for occupancy after ceiling tiles containing asbestos were cleared, but the contractor responsible for disturbing those tiles could face charges from the state Department of the Environment, officials said.

Workers with Fitzgerald Electric Co. in Baltimore disrupted the tiles Saturday while installing piping and conduit for electrical outlets, Alex Szachnowicz, acting director of facilities for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, said yesterday.

The work order had called for running electrical wiring an inch or two below the ceiling, which was known to contain asbestos, he said.

"Unfortunately, they did run it above the ceiling level," he said.

Company officials at Fitzgerald declined to comment yesterday.

The school district notified parents of the incident Tuesday in a "backpack letter" from Superintendent Eric J. Smith that was sent home with all pupils. A follow-up letter the next day confirmed that air-quality tests conducted Tuesday afternoon found "the building was clearly safe for occupancy."

Szachnowicz said air testing is not required for this type of event by either the federal or state governments, but the school district decided to conduct the tests, "A, out of caution, and B, to ease everyone's mind."

Department of Environment inspectors visited the school Wednesday and agreed with the school district's assessment.

"It doesn't appear that there was any major concern," said Richard McIntire, a department spokesman. "The air was fine."

However, he said Fitzgerald Electric could face charges as a result of the incident and that the department would be "looking into the whole process."

"You cannot disturb asbestos-containing material without giving notice to this agency," he said.

Szachnowicz said the electrical work was part of a larger project to bring more computers and technology to county schools. Fitzgerald Electric was contracted to work in nine county school buildings, about half of which include asbestos, he said.

"Their work activities within asbestos-containing buildings has been halted temporarily," Szachnowicz said.

He added that the school district would meet with the company to review and reinforce all requirements for working in those buildings before allowing the installations to resume.

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