STAMFORD, CT Asbestos tests paid for by the police union membership have led to the evacuation of the first-floor offices of the Narcotics and Organized Crime Unit inside police headquarters.
The tests performed earlier this month found asbestos fibers in each of the five locations tested in different parts of the building, according to a report by the testing service Big East Environmental of Norwalk.
But none of the other samples compared to the numbers found in the Narcotics and Organized Crime Unit’s office, the report said. The report said 88,200 asbestos fibers per square centimeter were found on a five-inch by five-inch area on a shelf behind a television in the drug squad’s offices.
Assistant Chief Timothy Shaw said after the test results were received, the department voluntarily moved the dozen or so officers in the unit out of their offices, and squad members are using other parts of the building.
“Based on results, we are speaking to experts in the state to better understand what they mean and remedy the situation,” Shaw said. He added that as long as the results of air testing in the building remain stable, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has deemed the building safe for occupancy.
The last round of tests measuring the amount of asbestos in the air showed little if any was airborne. Of the 12 to 15 locations tested, only one area in the firearms room was found to have any particles in the air, and the amount was so low that it did not meet the abatement clearance criteria, Shaw said. OSHA has ordered quarterly testing of the air in the building.
For the past couple of months since the severity of the asbestos problem came to light, city officials have begun looking for a new location for the department. A contractor updating the heating and ventilation system in the department found asbestos in May 2014, calling a halt to the project for months. Federal regulators have since fined the city and demanded it clean up exposed debris.
Chief Jon Fontneau has said remediation would be “throwing good money after bad,” and the department has long ago outgrown the building anyway, regardless of the health and other problems with it.
Shaw, who worked in the narcotics and organized crime office for years when he headed the squad, said he is working with the city on a work order so the offices can be professionally cleaned.
Stamford police union President Todd Lobraico said that his membership was so concerned about the amount of dust around their work stations and knowing that there was an asbestos problem in the building, they decided to spend $1,200 themselves to get the independent tests completed by Big East.
“We were very surprised at the positive test results and even more concerned with how the (particles) got into our work space,” Lobraico said. He said that asbestos-containing plaster used to make the ceilings in the older part of the 59-year-old building appears to be flaking off and falling onto the newer drop ceilings below, and some of that asbestos is migrating through the tiles and into the work areas.
OSHA has prohibited anyone from raising or getting into any of the drop-ceiling tiles in the older part of the building.
Steve DiNapoli, environmental professional for Big East, said the levels of asbestos contamination in the narcotics office is almost high enough to indicate that some asbestos building materials have been disturbed sometime in the past, at least since that area was cleaned last. During a telephone interview Thursday, DiNapoli said the area behind the television where the sample was taken did not look excessively dirty or abandoned.
In his report on the testing at police headquarters, DiNapoli suggested getting an asbestos abatement contractor into the building to decontaminate the narcotics office.
Four other tests in different parts of the building — Youth Services, the west male locker room, the extra duty office and crimes against persons office — also turned up asbestos, but not in any alarming quantity, DiNapoli said. The asbestos fiber concentrations in those offices were below state Department of Public Health’s guidelines for background concentrations, his report said.
“For a building of that age, with known asbestos containing materials in it, it is not a surprise whatsoever,” said DiNapoli, adding that the EPA says there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.
Shaw, said that the department is developing an asbestos management program for the structure, built in 1995.
“We are taking this very seriously for the membership, and we are keeping everyone informed as best we can,” Shaw said.