ATLANTIC CITY — Dust in the air from a tile replacement project at the high school has some teachers concerned about negative health effects, but school officials said they are following proper safety procedures.
“I want to see accountability. The parents really don’t know what happened with the students, their children who were breathing that crap in,” said teacher Charles Joseph. “I’ve been trying to make the teachers more aware of how serious it is.”
“We don’t see there’s any issues,” said Superintendent Barry Caldwell. “The board has done everything it could for health and safety.”
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Teacher Steve Nagiewicz, a senior building representative for the teachers union, estimated at least 50 employees in the high school have spoken to the school nurse and workmen’s compensation officials as a result of the dust.
This fall, the Board of Education awarded a contract to R. Maxwell Construction Co. of Pleasantville to rip up the ceramic tile throughout the high school and replace it with terrazzo flooring.
According to Caldwell, the work began over the holiday break in December and is anticipated to be done in several phases. He said that while no work is being done while students are in the building, the activity in the halls exposed the issue.
“When the students returned back on Jan. 2, some dust settled and we did have an issue with dust,” Caldwell said.
He said the district is taking the problem seriously and the school had a half day Jan. 2 when the dust problem became apparent. Areas where work is being done are draped in plastic sheeting and fans have been brought in, according to teachers in the district.
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“Subsequently, we had the Atlantic City Health Department come in several times, and they gave us a clean bill of health,” Caldwell said Wednesday.
He said the district received recommendations from the Health Department, which he said it followed, and received visits last week from the city’s building inspector and Fire Department. Caldwell said the district has hired Epic Environmental to perform an independent air quality test, the results of which he said will be made public when complete.
Joseph, who has been out of school since Jan. 3 due to breathing problems he associates with the dust from the project, said the school did not do enough to protect the staff and students.
Nagiewicz said the dust issue is serious, especially if the dust contained silica. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, exposure to crystalline silica — a basic component of soil, sand, granite and other minerals — can result in lung damage.
He said he appreciated the steps the district has taken to mitigate the problem.
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“The district to their credit is trying to make it the least problematic,” he said.
Nagiewicz said he was still concerned for the students and wanted to see better communication from the district.
“I don’t know that they’ve been forthcoming about how they’re going handle the rest of it,” he said.
The tile replacement is one of several capital projects the Atlantic City School District is undertaking this year, including replacing the gym floor and refurbishing the television production lab.
In addition, the district is searching for a new administration building, which it plans to purchase and move into within the next year to year and a half.