STAMFORD, CT After multiple visits to investigate the asbestos threat and water contamination at the city’s police headquarters, OSHA has fined the city for failing to protect workers from asbestos or screen them for exposure to it.
The order requires Stamford to clean up asbestos waste and debris exposed in the building by March 2015, putting a deadline on the city to decide whether it will solve the larger problem with the police station by building a new police headquarters or trying to repair and upgrade the existing station.
“Personally, I feel we are throwing good money after bad to fix it,” Stamford Police Chief Jonathan Fontneau said. “We outgrew the police building many years ago and I don’t know how many millions it will cost to fix what’s wrong with a building that is already antiquated to serve as a modern police department. It would be like putting a Band-Aid on a broken bone.”
The 65-year-old Bedford Street headquarters has multiple other problems in addition to the asbestos. The water is contaminated with lead and isn’t safe for drinking or showering. The ventilation system can’t be used because it would distribute the asbestos particles further, the force and its technological needs have outgrown the space, and the jail cells are not constructed to modern standards that include suicide-prevention measures.
OSHA and city officials have said that air quality testing in the building by OSHA and an industrial hygienist found the air quality in the building remains safe for occupancy at this time.
In a 12-page report issued on Oct. 28, OSHA fined the city $2,720 for five violations of federal safety procedures for handling asbestos, including not informing housekeepers and contractors in the building about potential health risks of the presence of asbestos and not removing asbestos-containing materials in a manner to contain its spread.
The report included a $560 fine for not doing a required analysis to determine whether asbestos was present and likely to be disturbed and could be disturbed by contract work. Such an asbestos analysis is required on buildings built before 1980, under federal regulations.
The city was fined another $560 for not containing the spread of the asbestos dust and waste, and was ordered to clean up the material by next March.
The police union president said that although the health threat is worrying, and that a new building is really what’s needed, the officers understand that it will come at a heavy cost.
“I’ll leave it up to city officials to come up with the best solution to either do the abatement process or find another suitable building for the police department,” Stamford Police Association union President Todd Lobraico said.
The union is concerned about the safety of its members, and expects the city to start doing health screenings on officers.
Mayor David Martin and city officials are still reviewing the OSHA citations, Martin’s chief of staff Michael Pollard said, and arranging an informal conference with OSHA officials to help the city understand the scope of what needs to be done. The city has 15 days from the date of the report to request a conference with OSHA to discuss or dispute any of the stipulations, including the deadlines to remediate problems.
“The fines are not paramount in our mind, but fully comprehending what the remediation requirements is,” Pollard said.
Pollard said temporary relocation was just a matter of time.
Kenneth Tucker, director of the state Labor Department’s Connecticut Occupational Safety and Health Division, said the need for relocation depends on how big an area of the building needs to be cleaned up.
The asbestos was discovered by a contractor conducting a mechanical upgrade of the building’s heating and cooling system in March, raising concerns about potential air quality hazards to police.
OSHA is still investigating the problem of lead in the water at the police headquarters, and is expected to issue a determination on how that should be resolved soon.
Beyond the air and water quality issues, the police department has outgrown the building on Bedford Street and needs a larger modern day facility, Fontneau said.
Two weeks ago, Fontneau requested up to $45 million from the city to pay for a possible relocation, including $30 million to purchase a building, and $15 million to install communications, a jail and other amenities.