LETTER: Resident Worries About Sick Buildings, Asbestos in Cunniff’s Temporary Home

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The following statement was provided by Mary Russo, Watertown resident and former Watertown teacher:

I. Issue One: Watertown, sick buildings, our babies, and Covid 19

Sick building issues have been political losers in Watertown because of long latencies.  That is mostly because the most serious illnesses – in particular asbestos related ones – can take 30 years or more to manifest. 30 years of legal non-compliance and negligence have been ignored at the local and state levels. Easy to hide and hard prove things with 30 year latencies.

But political reality is about to change for two reasons.

  1. The coronavirus is an immediate threat. The main issue is transmission. Dr. Mark Fishman, the founder of the Novartis Institute, has called it the perfect virus because it has so many ways to move from one person to another.
  2. We are sending our babies into another deteriorating building – this one in Waltham that has not met Federal standards and has not properly identified sick building issues. Where is the public notice? Where are the AHERA reports? What are the full costs?
  3. I’m forwarding an article by Dr. Joseph Allen, the director the Healthy Building program at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Allen describes conditions that create grave new risks. Inspectors have repeatedly found those kinds of conditions at Watertown High School and Watertown Middle School.  Watertown and the MA DLS have already admitted to them. These concerns are based on the inherent structure, age, and deteriorated status of the buildings. 

This is no longer a long-term latency issue. No 30 years to hide. It’s no longer a political issue you can easily bury.  It’s now a coronavirus issue.  It’s now.

And Waltham hasn’t been West Watertown since 1738.

II. Issue Two: Long-term contracts in the middle of a world financial meltdown

It is irresponsible to enter into long-term contracts when the world doesn’t know the value of money. Inflation? Deflation? Depression? Recovery? Most businesses are entering no deals or short-term deals for now.

Beyond that we don’t know if our employees and politicians have prepared us for the current crisis. Let’s see if our schools can open first. Let’s see if Waltham is a safe and appropriate West Watertown.

4 thoughts on “LETTER: Resident Worries About Sick Buildings, Asbestos in Cunniff’s Temporary Home

  1. I totally agree with you.
    It is an irresponsible, crazy act to demolish Cunniff School in the middle of a catastrophic economic crisis. But pride often goes hand in hand with stupidity.
    I really hope that the Watertown will not approve their budget.

  2. My name is Steven Casella. I worked at Watertown Public Schools for over 13 years as a custodian, serving years as the SEIU 888 Union Chapter President representing custodians, cafeteria workers and maintenance crew. In January of 2020, I had no choice in resigning from my position because the School Administration refuse to take responsibility for almost 30 years of non-compliance with AHERA/asbestos laws. My own custodial office, first discovered in 1999 as having the worst codes for friable material- finally addressed and abated by the end of 2016. The blanket response from Administration and Town Officials was that it happened under past regimes and records are gone, so they are not culpable for any violations prior to their tenure. When asked about my exposure, which is guaranteed 100% be the case- I was told to file with MIAA to have it recorded and if I get sick later in life, I can litigate against the District then. Good answer, right? Not very reassuring that once I get mesothelioma, only then I can have some sort of compensation/accountability from WPS. Thousands of students and faculty have been exposed through the years. Is WPS compliant with AHERA now. Yes, more than likely- but everyone should thank Mary Russo for that. Her efforts alone have FORCED (DLS mandated) compliance. Thank you Mary for having the best interest of students and faculty in mind.

  3. Wow I can not believe that the administration has not made this know to the public. this is a over 90 year old building. With all the mold,mildew and asbestos shame on them. I know first hand what it can do to a person. Hopefully this will help administration from Covering up this conditions. https://wpssickbuildings .com/gridphotos.html

  4. I want to take a moment and thank Mary Russo for her dedication to the students and staff of Watertown schools.
    I’d like to take this opportunity to contribute further information on what has already been expressed. My name is John Barry I was a custodian at WHS for close to 14 years. During that time my, as long as other custodians, jobs have included many things. During the summer months my job was to strip and resurface all floors in the school. This requires the floors to be grinded down using different types of machines. After a normal day of grinding these floors, I was covered in dust. Myself and other custodians have done these tasks year after year. It has recently come to our attention that these floors contained Asebesto containing materials. Also AHERA reports of these materials were hidden. The word asbestos was never mentioned to myself or any other custodians. We have also uncovered that the timing of reports coincides with the WHS being accredited. The existing state of WHS remains unhealthy and dangerous. The administration and school committee continued to tell the public, staff and student families that they have done “an abundance of caution ” to make the schools safe. I disagree. We only want accountability and to let present and past students and employees the truth.

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