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EPC set to fine school system

Published Oct. 16, 2005

Despite the Hillsborough County school system's contention that it didnot violate any regulations, officials with the county's Environmental

Protection Commission (EPC) plan to penalize the system for improperly

removing asbestos ceiling tiles from a school building in 1988.

Jerry Campbell, EPC's assistant director for air pollution control

programs, said the agency should have a consent agreement drafted and sent to the school system within two weeks. The agreement would specify a dollar amount the school system would be asked to pay for the alleged violations, he said.

If the school system refuses to pay, EPC officials would either turn over the case to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for further action or seek authority to take the case to court, they said.

If the case went to court, a judge could penalize the school system up to $180,000, Campbell said. He said the EPC's initial penalty would be "something less than that."

The alleged violations occurred when an administration building at Lutz Elementary was remodeled. While the project was in progress, a contractor for the school system surveyed buildings throughout the district to develop a plan for removing asbestos.

When the plan was completed, the school system sent contractors to various sites to remove asbestos. When contractors arrived at Lutz, the ceiling tiles targeted in the survey had been removed during the remodeling.

School officials contend that the asbestos-removal regulations that EPC had cited in its charges did not take affect until October, 1988.

The Lutz remodeling project was completed in August of that year.

"Any citations for work performed then seems to be applying current regulations retroactively," said Douglas Browning, an consultant hired by the school system, in a letter that was forwarded to EPC.

Iwan Choronenko, EPC's air pollution control program director, disagrees.

"A violation did occur. Something needs to be done," he said.

In another asbestos-related case, school and EPC officials plan to ask the EPA to decide whether a violation occurred in November when a residence the school system owned near Cleveland Elementary School was torn down.

School Board attorney Crosby Few said that because residential properties are excluded from federal regulations involving asbestos, the school system should not be penalized.

Few said the school system started to demolish the building without notifying EPC, as is required for school buildings. As soon as asbestos was discovered, EPC was notified and proper procedures for asbestos removal were followed, he said.

Instead of paying EPC an $8,000 penalty in the case, school officials requested last week that their explanation be forwarded to EPA for a ruling. EPC agreed.

"The problem here is one of interpretation," Choronenko said. "It is EPA's interpretation based on a similar case that the moment the School Board acquired that building it became commercial."

Choronenko said EPA should make its ruling in the Cleveland case by April.