LETTER: Watertown Schools Have Asbestos, Air Flow Problems

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Letter to Editor,

This past week, the Massachusetts Department of Education & Secondary Education (DESE) conducted an audit on the Watertown Public Schools and the District’s decision to delay opening the buildings for in-school/hybrid learning.

At this moment, no details have been provided to Town residents as to what the audit yielded. Information requests to the DESE have been unanswered. All the details residents know (via a ZOOM call), is that Superintendent Galdston spoke to DESE Commissioner Riley (or an associate) and that the conversation was short with few questions (according to Galdston). So what were the DESE findings and why haven’t the Middle School and High School opened yet?

The Watertown Public School website has posted the 2020 AHERA/Asbestos reports and the September 9 HVAC review of air quality and air flow. These findings indicate why the Middle School and High School can’t open their doors. Results show, that it isn’t safe.

For those who don’t want to research, here is a short recap of the problems. AHERA/Asbestos reports are not good. Many areas require immediate abatement (removal of asbestos) or encapsulation. The High School is much worse than the Middle School, with over 150 material descriptions cited as being asbestos. The HVAC reports are not good either. The Middle School has “very little airflow” in some classrooms. The High School has classrooms with “marginal airflow” and “there is a general exhaust
system present but not all classrooms are provided with a connection to this system. Also, the performance of general exhaust system appears to be marginally effective in the classrooms where there is a general exhaust grille present.” Both schools have issues with filters. “unit ventilators cannot be fitted with MERV filters because the higher pressure drop (resistance) caused by the filter will restrict airflow and impede performance.” “In cases where the advanced age of the HVAC equipment has prevented continued operation due to scarcity of parts, such as Phillips School, it is highly recommended that windows be opened whenever possible and air purifiers be utilized whenever windows are closed.”

There is no gray area interpreting the reports. The buildings are not safe and need to be fixed, prior to opening. From November 2 through November 5, the High School will have 4 areas closed off for asbestos encapsulation and abatement. More asbestos encapsulation and abatements already scheduled. How did this happen?

For over 30+ years Watertown Public Schools have been non-compliant with Federal and State AHERA/Asbestos laws. In 2017, the District was investigated and cited by the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards for non-compliance. The 2017 WPS AHERA/Asbestos reports were the
first to be recorded with the State, since the AHERA ACT began in 1986.

I am the former Union President of the Watertown Public School Custodians, Cafeteria, and Maintenance. I left employment at the WPS this past January because of known asbestos exposure and the District’s treatment towards me after expressing my concerns. Although Superintendent Galdston admitted non-compliance and acknowledged my exposure, I was informed that the Administration has no liability since it happened under different personnel and that if I ever get mesothelioma in the future, then (and only then) can I take action against the District. Nice answer, right?

Since then, I came into contact with other staff members with similar concerns. Together we started the Watertown Safe Schools group to educate Watertown residents on the hazards of the old buildings. Every student, faculty member, or casual visitor over the last 30 years, has been exposed to asbestos. Someone like myself (who stored personal belongings and dined in a custodial office that was ranked as having the worst possible code for friable and airborne ACM/ACBMs) are at a much higher risk, than

Our group spoke to the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards. We spoke to the DESE, days prior to the audit. Neither of these State departments seem overzealous to pursue the District of Watertown for their negligence. No doubt there are political connections. Legal assistance is difficult when challenging School Districts because of lawyer’s time commitment and no financial gain. There doesn’t seem to be an end game to our group’s cause, except to raise public awareness and hope for accountability to those responsible for letting the buildings dilapidate. There is absolutely no reason the District can excuse themselves for not complying to building safety regulations for over 30+ years. New schools should have been built decades ago and every single person who set foot in the buildings is a victim of exposure. Some students and faculty are going to get sick years from now. It’s important to know who is responsible for their untimely demise.

Let’s hope that Commissioner Riley and the DESE acknowledge the real reasons, as to why the Middle School and High School aren’t opening. The findings should be made public. And if there is no mention of asbestos and poor HVAC in their audit, then State Officials need to be held accountable too because students and faculty (according to HVAC and AHERA reports) are going to be exposed to COVID-19 and/or asbestos.

For more information, please check websites:
Watertown Public Schools 2020 AHERA Report

Watertown Public Schools September 2020 HVAC Report:

Watertown Safe Schools Information and Petition:

Steven Casella

One thought on “LETTER: Watertown Schools Have Asbestos, Air Flow Problems

  1. This is very informative. Thank you.

    I am so very sorry about Mr. Casella’s probems, and we all hope he is well, I am sure.

    I think all these health problems took place while Democrats were in charge of the town, counties, and pretty much the entire Massachusetts state government, except for an occasional GOP governor.

    Yet I was always told since I was a small child growing up here that Democrats cared more about children, health, and the environment than did Republicans. I actually believed what I was told.

    My eyes have now been opened. I wonder if others are experiencing the same thing. And I am wondering if similar things have happened on the national level.

    I admire Mr. Casella for his courage in bringing these problems to light.

    As for those who caused or neglected these problems, you have to live with yourselves.

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