For Immediate Release - December 09, 2009

Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office Reaches Agreement with City of Worcester

Agreement Requires City to Implement new Environmental Management System

BOSTON - Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office reached an agreement with the City of Worcester, resolving allegations that public school officials improperly removed and disposed of vinyl asbestos tiles from the auditorium of the Vernon Hill School in violation of environmental laws. A final judgment was entered in Suffolk Superior Court today by Judge Elizabeth Fahey that requires Worcester officials to develop and implement an environmental management system ("EMS") for its public schools. Additionally, the Worcester Public Schools will pay a civil penalty of $75,000, which will be waived if the city completes the EMS in accordance with the Settlement Agreement.

"The City of Worcester is taking a major step towards assuring that the students in the public schools are protected from environmental hazards in the schools by comprehensively addressing environmental issues," said Attorney General Coakley. "This is a great outcome for Worcester and particularly for the students who attend the public schools."

"MassDEP rules are in place to ensure that public health is protected through proper removal and handling of asbestos-containing materials," said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Laurie Burt. "The city is committing to an environmental management system that will ensure proper compliance in the future with these and other important health, safety and environmental requirements."

In April 2007, while school was out for spring vacation, employees of the city of Worcester removed vinyl asbestos floor tiles without using a licensed asbestos contractor, according to the complaint filed in Suffolk Superior Court. Under the city's direction, employees put cracked and broken pieces of vinyl asbestos floor tiles from the auditorium in plastic bags and then placed the plastic bags in cardboard drums, sealed the drums with strapping or duct-tape, and placed the drums between rows of lockers under the stage in the auditorium. The complaint further alleges that the city did not label the barrels with asbestos warnings.

According to the complaint, the vinyl asbestos tiles removed by the city contained asbestos concentrations of approximately 33 to 42 percent. The complaint also alleges the city did not seal off the auditorium to contain fugitive dust when it was conducting the removal of the vinyl asbestos tiles or use an air filtration system to capture particulate asbestos fibers.

Upon discovery of the violations, MassDEP required the city to restrict access to the auditorium and hire a licensed asbestos contractor to properly remove, package and dispose of all asbestos waste materials and to thoroughly clean and decontaminate the auditorium and all affected areas of the school.

The settlement agreement requires the city to develop and implement an EMS for its public schools that will comprehensively address environmental issues to achieve and maintain environmental compliance throughout the Worcester public school system and will integrate the city's commitment to environmental compliance and environmental management practices into the daily mission of the public schools.

Assistant Attorney General Betsy Harper of Attorney General Coakley's Environmental Protection Division handled the case. Mary Jude Pigsley, Greg Levins, and Don Heeley handled the case for the MassDEP.