Asbestos Whistleblower Says He Was Demoted by New York City SchoolsJan 8, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
An asbestos whistleblower is claiming that has been demoted for speaking out about asbestos problems at New York City schools. According to a press release from his lawyer, John Kielbasa, a 22-year veteran steamfitter for the New York City Department of Education (DOE) has been reassigned to sweeping warehouse floors. Nicknamed the “Serpico of the Schools” by co-workers, Kielbasa has been vigilant about reporting loose friable asbestos in a variety of New York City Schools over the last 15 years. Kielbasa was recently informed by a New York City Law Department employee that the city recovered and continues to pursue claims against asbestos manufacturers; however, recovered monies are earmarked for the general fund and not asbestos abatement. Breathing high levels of asbestos fibers is linked to increased risks of lung cancer, mesothelioma—a cancer of the lining of the chest and abdominal cavity—and asbestosis—in which lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.
Until 2003, the notification method for loose friable asbestos in schools was to simply contact a supervisor by telephone. This outdated system did not mandate documentation so there is no known proof of asbestos notifications prior to 2003.† Kielbasa’s attorney, Pete Gleason, believes the system was more malevolent than incompetent, guaranteeing no legitimate record would ever be maintained, much less created. Public records confirm some city Schools were closed in the early 1990s for asbestos contamination. In 2003, the DOE set up a fax notification system for asbestos in the schools; however, this system has not resulted in increased asbestos in schools.
Kielbasa and his lawyer believe he is being punished for speaking up, “How can they label me a troublemaker if I'm bringing something important to people's awareness?” he asked. Gleeson contends Mr. Eric Wienbaum, who was recently and quietly transferred for undisclosed reasons, instigated the harassment Kielbasa has suffered over the past six years. When his notifications went unanswered, Kielbasa collected loose friable asbestos from the city schools to which he was assigned and sent them to the EMSL lab—a known leader in asbestos testing; all samples were confirmed positive for loose friable asbestos.† Rather than address the problem, the DOE chose to discipline Kielbasa.
Gleason sent a complete synopsis of the long-ignored asbestos condition in NY City Schools to New York City Comptroller, William Thompson; New York City Public Advocate, Betsy Gotbaum; New York City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn; Manhattan Borough President, Scott Stringer; and New York State Senator, Martin Connor. Apparently, only The Comptroller, William Thompson, seemed interested enough to address the situation and notified former NYC Police Commissioner, now Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District, Richard J. Condon. Kielbasa has offered—at his own expense—to conduct his own investigation if allowed to dispatch a private, qualified asbestos investigatory team, under Condon’s purview, into the affected schools. As far as the elected officials who ignored the prima facie evidence sent to their office, Gleason said, “If Gotbaum, Quinn, Stringer, and Connor are not part of the solution then they are part of the problem and perhaps should find a different line of work.”
This matter is now the subject of a US Department of Labor complaint.