News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 20, 2013

IDEM: No violations at Union High School

Tested for asbestos, lead-based paint

Sue Loughlin
Associated Press

DUGGER — State environmental and health authorities found no violations at Union High School on Tuesday after responding to a complaint alleging possible health issues resulting from volunteers’ repair work at the school over the weekend.

Complaints raised concerns about possible health issues related to lead-based paint and asbestos at the school.

Volunteers hoping to keep Union High School open did some work that included painting and patching. The high school dates back to 1921.

Leslie Hawker, spokeswoman for Save NESC (Northeast School Corp.), said she did complain to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which in turn contacted the state Department of Health. It was her understanding volunteer workers scraped paint.

Save UHS wants to preserve the school, while SAVE NESC favors a reorganization plan that would close Union High School.

IDEM deals with asbestos issues, while county or state health departments respond to issues involving lead-based paint.

Both IDEM and the state department of health sent staff to the school Tuesday. “Our compliance inspector observed no asbestos violations during his inspection today [Tuesday],” said Amy Smith, IDEM spokeswoman.

The volunteers had patched holes in plaster, scraped paint and repainted walls in three classrooms, and they also painted in a stairwell. But there were no concerns involving asbestos, Smith said.

Another goal was to provide information “so they can make sure volunteer activities are done safely” and do not cause additional problems, Smith said.

Mark Baker, Northeast School Corp. superintendent, said he also fielded complaints over the weekend and contacted a company, Alliance, that the district uses for its asbestos management program.

The company took four samples from walls over the summer and found no asbestos; Alliance took four more samples Monday and again found no asbestos in the walls, Baker said.

Asbestos does exist in insulation around piping, but that asbestos has not been disturbed, Baker said.

Alliance inspects the schools every six months to make sure there are no problems.

The state Department of Health also had a field staffer checking out the school, “but we have no results yet,” department spokesman Ken Severson wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon.

Baker, who was at the high school Tuesday, said the rooms painted by the volunteers did not have lead-based paint. The volunteers also painted in a stairwell — neither the walls nor the stairs had lead paint.

The volunteers painted over a handrail that had lead-based paint, but the volunteers did not do any scraping before they painted, he said.

Baker said he was told there were no violations involving lead-based paint. “You can’t dry sand or dry scrape anything with lead, and they did not,” he said.

Elsewhere in the building, lead paint was found on an outer wall of the school’s basement, Baker said.  

The district contacted its insurance carrier, which said that because the school has some lead-based paint, any further work of that nature must involve a licensed contractor, Baker said. The volunteers cannot work on their own at the school.

The district also has received a complaint about mold at the school and “we’ll have that checked out as well,” Baker said.

Greg Ellis, who helped organize Save UHS, said he had heard only second-hand rumors about the complaints and inspections by IDEM and the Department of Health. “I don’t have anything to offer on that end,” he said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or