PITTSFIELD TWP. — An investigation of the air quality in Lorain County Joint Vocational School’s carpentry lab led to several suggestions by the company hired to examine it, but carpentry instructor Ron Gresco said several of the suggestions were ignored.
The school did discontinue the use of blowing equipment in the lab, create a timeline of required cleaning and moved a class out of the lab to decrease the amount of dust accumulation. Students also were required to wear dust masks during that time and best practices were determined for use of the lab’s dust collector.
Gresco, who blames his recent chronic obstructive pulmonary disease diagnosis on his 13 years of working in the lab, said the school never installed a functional exhaust system in the carpentry lab, as suggested by the independent inspection, testing and certification firm that completed the study.
Gresco said bids were put out for installation of the new exhaust system, but the system was never installed.
Lorain County JVS Deputy Superintendent Jerry Pavlik said the system in the carpentry lab has been upgraded.
“It isn’t a whole new system, but we have made upgrades based on what that mechanical engineer has recommended,” he said.
Pavlik said the system in place at the carpentry lab is effective.
“The dust collection system in the carpentry lab has been maintained,” he said. “The system has worked, and the system has been working.”
The investigation of the lab, provided by Bureau Veritas North America Inc., was completed Dec. 10, 2010, according to documentation provided by the school.
The test indicated that contaminants on one student in the lab tested exceeded the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s established permissible exposure limits.
The test results indicated that a second student who was tested did not exceed the level, although investigators noted that the lab’s ventilation system was about 15 years old and the saws being used were normally for outdoor use.
Those saws were being used because other equipment was broken, according to the report.
Gresco, who was diagnosed with the lung disease in September, has made several complaints about the air quality in the lab beginning in 2010 when a student was removed from the lab for “respiratory distress.”
Documents provided by the JVS indicate that the student suffered from asthma, but Gresco said the large amount of dust in the lab likely contributed to the incident and to his diagnosis in which he was told he has the lungs of a 108-year-old.
Gresco said he is not a smoker.
After Gresco’s initial complaint, former Lorain County JVS Superintendent John Nolan ordered the test by Bureau Veritas. A Joint Safety and Health Committee also was formed at the school as a result of a grievance filed by Gresco, and the committee was ordered to complete an investigation and present the findings to Nolan.
Among other suggestions that were implemented, the committee suggested that portable dust collection units be utilized, and the report indicated that the school was in process of obtaining those. The units were installed in November, after Gresco received his diagnosis.
Gresco said the improvements were made too late.
“I told them that you may fix this, but you’re not going to fix me,” he said.
Gresco accused former Superintendent John Nolan of hiding the results of the Bureau Veritas test, saying that he had to request the results from the company after the school failed to provide them.
Nolan has denied that the school district hid the results of the tests in 2010. He said he personally ordered the tests to be completed after receiving complaints of air quality, and he said several improvements were made as a result.
During a March 20 Lorain County JVS Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Glenn Faircloth said he was not aware of the tests. He said he was notified about the problem two months after he took the position in 2012.
“I have zero records until the instructor shared this information with me,” he said during the meeting.
Faircloth said that since he was informed of Gresco’s diagnosis, additional tests of the lab were ordered by the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, as well as an independent firm. The results are pending.
Gresco was placed on paid administrative leave during this time, according to a letter from Pavlik. The district is scheduling a doctor’s appointment at the district’s expense to ensure Gresco is able to work without restrictions, according to the letter.
A union head did not return calls for comment.
Pavlik said a substitute teacher is teaching the class as well as a person trained in carpentry. Two teachers are needed because the carpentry expert does not have a substitute teaching license, he said.
During the meeting March 20, parents expressed concerns that their children in the carpentry class were not being prepared for required testing, nor are they receiving grades in a timely manner.
JVS officials said they would look into those claims, but they said the substitute teacher is qualified.