K-12 Education

Cedar Rapids School District could face new asbestos lawsuit

EPC voted to send the school districts asbestos case to the Attorney General

New 90-degree elbows were installed on overhead pipes during asbestos remediation work at Cedar Rapids Washington High School in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, August 13, 2015.  (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
New 90-degree elbows were installed on overhead pipes during asbestos remediation work at Cedar Rapids Washington High School in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, August 13, 2015. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Iowa Attorney General’s Office will decide how to proceed with an asbestos case against Cedar Rapids schools and a contractor after officials last year found an abatement project at Washington High School went wrong.

The state Environmental Protection Commission this week determined that the faulty asbestos removal in late 2014 and spring 2015 needed further action and voted unanimously to bring in the Attorney General.

In a report filed with the EPC by the state Department of Natural Resources, the Cedar Rapids school district and contractor Abatement Specialties are accused of:

• Failing to remove all regulated asbestos-containing material before demolition

• Failing to keep the asbestos adequately wet

• Failing to seal all asbestos in leak-tight containers

The case was brought to light last year after Department of Natural Resources inspections found higher-than-permitted asbestos levels after the renovations.

Asbestos can cause cancer and diseases when inhaled into the lungs.

It was undetermined how many construction workers and Washington faculty, staff and students — if any — were exposed to the fibers.

At a maximum, the penalty for each violation is $10,000 per day, said Geoff Greenwood, communications director for the Iowa Attorney General.

Greenwood said his department received the referral Tuesday and has not had the chance to determine a timeline for proceeding to a resolution or lawsuit.

“Could be a matter of months or even a year,” he said.

The Cedar Rapids district said in a statement that it is committed to safety.

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“The District hired an architect and abatement contractor for the Washington High School project that had successfully worked on and completed other similar projects. The District addressed issues that were brought to its attention and made sure that remedial measures were implemented as soon as possible. The District looks forward to working with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office in resolving this matter.”

The contractor, Abatement Specialties, declined Wednesday to comment.

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