2006-07-19 / Front Page

Fumes Overcome Workers

BY JOHN TOSCANO

Queens West Sanitation garage. Photo Vinny DuPre Queens West Sanitation garage. Photo Vinny DuPre Department of Sanitation officials at the Queens West 1 garage on 21st Street, between 35th and 34th Avenues, were issued a notice of violation by the state Labor Department inspectors when two mechanics were found to have been overexposed to nitrogen dioxide fumes from a truck under repair which was idling last April 21.

Earlier this year on February 23, four sanitation workers assigned to the garage located at 3428 21st St. reportedly were overexposed to exhaust fumes as five mechanical brooms and two collection trucks were starting up for their routes during the first shift of the day.

Also on February 23, Department of Labor (DOL) inspectors said some of the 130 sanitation workers assigned to the garage were exposed to fumes when two snow emergency plow trucks were starting up, according to the DOLs Notice of Violation.

While the February 23 inspection was in progress, however, the violations were abated "by implementing administrative and engineering exhaust ventilation control," according to the DOL report.

But the May 21 event, for which the Notice of Violation was issued on June 14, still stands and must be responded to by Sanitation Department officials by October 26.

According to reports concerning these incidents, there was no indication of what effects the overexposure had or whether those affected were hospitalized or lost time from work.

The Gazette, seeking comment from Queens West 1 garage officials, was referred to the department's public information office, which issued the following statement:

"In regard to your inquiry of the Queens West 1 garage, new exhaust fans were installed to eliminate the CO2 condition. In addition, collection trucks are not permitted to idle for long periods of time within the garage. The interior areas affected by pigeons were completely power-washed and water tests were recently performed with the results pending."

The references to the pigeon problem and water tests were references to other employee complaints made to DOL and its Public Employee Safety and Health bureau (PESH).

The investigation into the conditions at the garage was conducted from February 17 to April 28 in response to an employee complaint of alleged exposure to diesel fumes and pigeon infestation. The complaint also requested "access to results of ground water monitoring in the garage soil."

According to the investigation report, in order to evaluate potential exposure to diesel fumes, samples were taken from the workers at the garage on February 23 and April 21 under the conditions previously described.

The samples were then analyzed by an independent laboratory, accredited by the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA).

The results of the tests showed that the samples taken by those found to be overexposed were "in excess of 1 ppm [parts per million parts of air], which is the short term exposure limit for nitrogen dioxide concentration."

Some of those tested drew readings as high as 5.2 ppm after being subjected to the exhaust fumes for 15 minutes, the investigation report said.

The following management and employees' representatives were present during environmental samplings for mechanics, according to the investigation:

Jerry Carannante, deputy chief/Facilities; Neil Gallagher, deputy director/Bureau of Building Maintenance; Al Mignone, assistant deputy director/Bureau of Building Maintenance; Anthony George, borough operations superintendent, Queens West; Steven Cimino, safety officer and Joseph Federici, shop steward, Local 831.

The report said, "Management was advised that administrative control may be used to reduce potential exposure of mechanics to air contaminants, reduction of truck idling time could be one example of such control. Management was also advised about benefits of scheduling medical evaluation for mechanics."

The other matters of the complaint were not sustained, according to the investigation report. Management retained a private contractor to address the pigeon problem and was advised to evaluate the effectiveness of an extermination program.

Standing water was observed during one DOL visit, but none was observed at a later time. Also, the report said management was advised to perform drainage maintenance in a timely manner.

Management was also advised to complete a power washing of the interior offices where clerical and supervisory staff are located, and to assess ventilation needs for the offices.

The Gazette was advised of the conditions at the huge garage by an anonymous letter from the mother of a sanitation worker assigned there. The distraught mother, who also sent copies of the pertinent DOL reports, said she was appalled by the reports and asked, "How can the City of New York allow such a disgrace? I don't want to lose my son because of all the pollution."

She asked the Gazette to look into the matter and said she wanted to remain anonymous "because I promised my son not to get involved."

To confirm the authenticity of the documents, we called DOL PESH which conducted the investigation.We faxed the documents to Frank Fazzio, downstate program manager, at his office at 345 Hudson St. in Lower Manhattan, and he authenticated the signature of David E. Merriman, supervising safety and health inspector, which appeared at the bottom of the Citation and Notification of Penalty.

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