In September of 2009, a Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) crew comprised of carpenter Robert Smith and PHA senior maintenance technician Rudy Barbosa entered the apartment of Kyeeshah Wright to fix a leak in the kitchen.
While working, one or both tore asbestos insulation off aging pipes and tossed it into the hole in the kitchen wall created to expose and repair the water pipes. Some was also left in the basement, according to reports.
This, the PHA workers say, is what PHA foremen consistently told them to do with asbestos debris – a practice described as routine by many of the PHA workers who have since come forward, even though handling asbestos in this manner is a violation of federal law under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) very specific NESHAP (National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants) regulations, as amended in 1990.
These provisions outline, in exact detail, procedures for handling asbestos when a public building, such as an apartment complex, is being demolished, renovated or repaired. One of these provisions insists on asbestos removal or remediation being performed only by licensed or certified technicians, which neither Smith nor Barbosa were. Another mandates disposal of asbestos debris in regulation containers, marked as hazardous and delivered to a designated landfill.
In spite of NESHAP, the PHA has reportedly been performing maintenance in the exact same manner for as long as it has been managing the Hill Creek complex and other apartments across the city – an allegation PHA spokesman David Tillman emphatically denies, even though recent whistleblowers (PHA workers) have stepped forward to confirm that supervisors routinely advised them to discard asbestos inside walls or in PHA dumpsters outside the complex.
Harder to deny are samples taken from Wright’s basement by the Philadelphia Dept. of Public Health during the week of Jan. 25-29. Wright and health department officials are still waiting on a report regarding the content of these samples. The Department also plans to hire a certified asbestos remediation firm to sample the air inside Wright’s apartment, and not just the kitchen.
For Wright, who has allowed her three children to play in the basement since the pipe repair last September, and used the basement to wash clothes, the news is particularly bad, and the likelihood that all four members of the family have come in contact with asbestos rises with each new report of the PHA’s reckless disregard of asbestos regulations.
Elaine G. Ticktin, an inspector with the Asbestos Control Unit of the Philadelphia Dept. of Public Health, has since placed an asbestos hazard warning on the basement door.
This, however, is of little benefit to the Wrights, particularly the children – 11, 2 and 7 months – who may already have contracted peritoneal mesothelioma, a rare but highly lethal cancer of mesothelial tissues whose only known cause is asbestos.
Sources: Philadelphia Weekly, Philly.com, EPA website