A Chattanooga private school is facing thousands of dollars in fines after state inspectors discovered asbestos inside a building at Girls Preparatory School that now houses a music program.
Responding to a complaint, the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) inspected that building on June 29. The whistleblower who filed the complaint says the school was aware of the problem months before state inspectors ordered them to correct it.
The man who alerted TOSHA spoke to Channel 3 off camera and asked to remain anonymous. About two weeks after our interview, he quit his job. He says he warned the school that the building being converted to Cadek Conservatory of Music was not safe three months before TOSHA fined GPS.
He shared a photo of the asbestos he says found in March. TOSHA verified the photo, saying the label is identical to what they found.
TOSHA fined GPS $4,800 and gave the school until August 4th to correct the problem. TOSHA tells Channel 3, the school did meet that deadline.
"TOSHA can fine up to $7000 so that can really give you kind of a scale of severity as to what this magnitude was," said Chris Cannon, spokesperson for TOSHA.
According to TOSHA, an asbestos survey is required when working on buildings built before 1989. According to GPS, this one was built in 1952. Cannon says GPS did not conduct a survey.
"If they had conducted the asbestos survey prior to that construction starting they would've known that was in there and that it could cause hazard for the workers who were in that garage," said Cannon.
TOSHA's inspection report show the school threw the hazardous material in a dumpster at the school's tennis center. It also shows the school did not warn the people working on the building or give them protective gear. The report lists resulting 17 violations.
Channel 3 repeatedly reached out to GPS to request an interview. We were referred to this written statement:
"During the renovation of our old business office building, which was built around 1952 and is separate from our main campus, asbestos was discovered. Out of an abundance of caution, GPS opted to go beyond the required abatement measures and remove all asbestos from the building, including the exterior. A professional abatement company was hired to conduct the removal and testing of materials. Following abatement and cleaning activities, the air samples successfully passed the final clearance protocols."
A web search shows Cadek opened on July 1st, two days after TOSHA found asbestos.
Parents of those students and employees were notified on August 31st, more than two months after GPS was fined. When asked why GPS waited so long a spokesperson responded saying, "it was the right time for them."
GPS oversees Cadek now located in the building. We have invited GPS officials to talk about the timeline of its opening; that offer still stands.
Here is the letter from GPS, notifying parents and employees of the asbestos discovery: