Cedar Rapids school district fined for asbestos contamination

By: - December 10, 2021 5:17 pm

Cedar Rapids took the brunt of the August 2020 derecho that caused widespread damage across the state. (Photo by the City of Cedar Rapids)

The return to in-person classes at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids was delayed last year when a company that was hired to repair derecho damage to the school took no precautions when it removed asbestos-containing floor tiles from a room, according to an Iowa Department of Natural Resources administrative order.

It was the second time in about five years that asbestos at a Cedar Rapids school was not properly mitigated and potentially exposed school staff and students to the dangerous material.

Kennedy High’s roof was severely damaged by the Aug. 10, 2020 storm that swept much of the state with forceful winds and wreaked the most havoc in Cedar Rapids. Several of the city’s schools were affected, and Kennedy High had significant water damage.

The district hired an Illinois company, Perfection Property Restoration, to repair the school and gave the company documents that noted the damaged floor tiles in room 251 had asbestos.

However, “no precautions were taken in regards to asbestos, and no asbestos regulations were followed for the removal,” according to the Dec. 1, 2021 DNR order.

Asbestos is a fibrous material that has been used to produce floor tiles, insulation and other building materials. The state regulates its removal because the fibers readily float in the air, and people who inhale them can develop lung cancer and other ailments.

The workers who removed floor tiles from the Kennedy High room used large fans to ventilate the room during the work. Some teachers and custodians might have been in the area during that time, the DNR order said.

A district employee contacted the state about the issue on Oct. 2, 2020, and four days later a DNR environmental specialist investigated it. He tested debris from the floor tiles in the room and an adjacent hallway and found that it contained asbestos.

The DNR ordered the school to close to everyone but the cleanup personnel and issued a violation notice to the district several weeks later.

Most of the other damaged schools reopened to students that November. Kennedy High resumed in-person classes in January.

In March, Perfection Property Restoration agreed to pay a fine of $6,500 for the violation. The school district recently agreed to pay $4,500.

The company and the district acknowledged requests to comment for this article but neither immediately provided one.

In 2017, the state sued the district for failing to ensure asbestos was properly removed before a major renovation of its Washington High School in 2014 and 2015, according to court records. Acting on a tip in June 2015, the same DNR environmental specialist investigated the suspicion that improper asbestos removal “had created an asbestos hazard throughout the school.”

There were dozens of workers, teachers and students in the school at the time, and a test in the school’s library revealed the air was contaminated by asbestos, court records show.

In November 2021, a judge ordered Abatement Specialties, the company that was initially hired to remove asbestos from the school, to pay a $40,000 fine for numerous asbestos-removal violations.

The school district settled the state’s complaint against it by agreeing to produce an hour of video that details asbestos requirements for schools and to make that video available to all Iowa school districts.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.

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