While pulling up the carpet in Deputy Director Ana Hernandez’s sixth floor office at 32-20 Northern Boulevard in Long Island City, a worker alerted Hernandez and her subordinates that asbestos might have been released into the air when two vintage, nine-inch tiles came loose from the floor.
The associate director of organization and education for SSEU Local 371 Joe Locust said that the paste to keep these tiles in place in some cases was mixed with asbestos. He said there had previously been no reason for concern because as long as the tiles remain undisturbed, there is no danger of exposure.
According to Locust, the worker alerted the HRA staff of the possibility of exposure without first notifying the union’s Health and Safety representative for Queens, Priscilla Abernathy, which goes against procedural protocol.
“When the guy saw the nine-inch tiles, he didn’t do something he’s supposed to do. He made it sound like it was more likely that there was asbestos than it was,” Locust said. “He should’ve called abatement and he didn’t. That’s how I got wind of it.”
An HRA spokesperson confirmed asbestos had been found in the tiles beneath the carpet, however work stopped immediately and the room was closed until testing had been completed.
“Last week, HRA requested an air test analysis for asbestos in the area of the HRA facility in question and none was found,” the spokesperson said.
A source inside the HRA reports that when the carpet was pulled, and the tiles were found to be loose, Hernandez and her staff were informed of a 15-day abatement performed on the floor below in January while the facilities on that and other floors of the building remained open.
A childcare facility remained operational during the alleged abatement.
The HRA spokesperson said that the Child Support Enforcement Division was not made aware of any abatement in January in their facility, and suggested that if there was an abatement performed, it may have been requested by another tenant in the building.
Locust also said that he was not made aware of any abatement work performed in the building during that period. He did, however confirm that asbestos testing took place the day following the discovery of loose tiles on Thursday. Locust said preliminary tests for airborne asbestos came back negative.
“We’re trying to get a copy of the test to provide for the workers there,” Locust said, aware of the concern coming from employees who use the space.
He gave several reassurances that the union was taking the possibility of exposure and sickness very seriously, and that all possible precautions were being taken.
“Our position is always the most cautious approach,” Locust said. “We consider ourselves advocates for the clients as well. The first thing we do is make sure our people are safe.”
Despite these reassurances, at least one worker inside HRA reports a lack of confidence.
“On Friday, the director said there was no asbestos found, but we did not see any written report,” the worker said. “Frankly, the workers do not believe them.”