new turf field St. Helens middle school

St. Helens Middle School, under construction earlier this year.

The St. Helens School District (SHSD) is suing PBS Engineering and Environmental, Inc. (PBS) for failure to remove all asbestos at the former St. Helens Middle School site during its two contracted periods in 2009 and 2018 to perform asbestos abatement, according to a lawsuit filed on Oct. 29 at the Columbia County Circuit Court.

According to the lawsuit, PBS issued an “Asbestos Abatement Close Report” and confirmed to SHSD’s representatives in July of 2019 that all asbestos abatement had been completed.

“In fact, it was not,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit, claiming negligence and negligent misrepresentation, estimates damages at $389,654.

“In reliance on PBS’s repeated confirmation (first in 2009 and again in 2019) that all asbestos in the Middle School had been properly abated, SHSD went forward with demolishing the building including the concrete slab. In fact, ‘hot’ asbestos containing mastic remained, in the areas that PBS had previously approved, in concentrations that were unacceptable under state law,” the lawsuit states.

As a result, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is requiring SHSD to perform asbestos remediation at the middle school again.

Additional work to be completed will include abatement of all concrete slab containing non-asbestos tile installed over the “hot” mastic, as well as removal of residual mastic still present on other areas of concrete slab. SHSD will also be required to remove concrete pieces with hot mastic from 150,000 square feet of sand by hand and move 1,800 cubic yards of concrete debris to an approved landfill, according to the lawsuit.

An additional consequence is that the concrete debris pile that remained after the demolition of the middle school is now contaminated, and cannot be used as fill on the site as originally planned, the lawsuit states.

“Now, the debris must be disposed of and new fill material must be purchased for use in the construction of the new school buildings,” the lawsuit states.

SHSD representatives have estimated $329,654 to perform the work required by DEQ, as well as $60,000 to attain new fill, according to the lawsuit.

On Friday, Nov. 8, SHSD released a statement about the asbestos removal.

“On October 4, 2019, the St. Helens School District was contacted by The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regarding the presence of suspected asbestos containing materials in demolition debris at the middle school site,” the statement reads.

The statement also specified that one type of black mastic, usually deemed safe, became unsafe when exposed during construction.

“Testing of material indicated that black mastic associated with attaching vinyl floor tile to the concrete subfloor, which is considered safe enough to be exempt from regulation in its intact non-friable form, was now exposed in building debris. Even though the mastic is generally pliable and unlikely to be rendered friable, the District has been working through remediation steps under the guidance of DEQ in accordance with Oregon Administrative Rules and will continue to do so until the matter is resolved to the satisfaction of both the District and DEQ.”

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