Kilgore College Being Investigated by State and Federal Officials Over Allegations of Asbestos Mishandling and Cover Up

Posted on December 2, 2014

Kilgore College is nestled in the beautiful town of Kilgore, TX, among the forests, lakes and rivers. But a campus employee claims the idyllic setting is marred by potential asbestos hazards.

The campus facilities director alleges that over the past few years there has been improper handling of asbestos, and that he was told by his supervisor to cover up the violations. Longview’s News-Journal.com has been detailing the asbestos issue in a series of news articles, and according to one article last week, the director went public with the allegations out of concern for the health and safety of students and campus workers and over fear of legal retribution.

The  facilities director says illegal asbestos abatement projects have been conducted an campus, and continue to be prevalent, and that asbestos still remains on campus. He presented a secretly recorded conversation between him and his boss, director of special projects and liaison to the board of trustees, where his boss allegedly said that “violations the college committed were ‘gone’ and that no one would get ‘in trouble,'” according to a Nov.23 article in the News-Journal.com.

Even as the school is being investigated by state and federal officials, and air quality tests are being conducted, the campus president is dismissing the allegations as false. At the same time, some of the trustees are calling the president’s claims premature.

“Please know that you are safe and that there is nothing to worry about in terms of asbestos exposure,” wrote College President Bill Holda in a Nov. 19 letter to students disputing the director’s claims as reported by the News-Journal on Nov. 19.

Several trustees questioned the president’s statement. “I think he’s making an assumption, and his basis for that assumption has not been shared with me that would [provide] evidence there is no one exposed to asbestos,” trustee Carlos “Scooter” Griffin Jr. was quoted as saying in a News-Journal.com article.

The allegations by the employee led the campus officials to conduct air quality tests, but it also brought out FBI and EPA investigators, the Texas Department of Health Services and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for investigations into the asbestos management on campus.

The college has hired an environmental company to take air samples and conduct a safety assessment of several buildings on campus including Dodson Auditorium, Randolph C. Watson Library, Rangerette Gym and the Quads Dormitory. Initial tests have not found any air safety issues, however, it may be several weeks before a full report is presented to campus officials.

“No one wants a safe environment for students, staff and faculty more than the Kilgore College leadership,” said College President Bill Holda in a statement issued to students and published in the New-Journal.com. “Each of us reports here every day, and for years, we have been assured by professionals upon whom we rely that we had such an environment. To date, we have seen no objective evidence or reason to believe that an unhealthy condition exists.”

A college spokesman confirmed that a college maintenance worker, although not licensed to remove asbestos, performed “small” asbestos abatements at the campus, according to the News-Journal. He added that, in addition, the campus has “spent millions upon millions of dollars on asbestos abatements and treatments.”

However, Christine Mann, Texas Department of State Health Services spokeswoman, said, “Under current state rules for asbestos abatement in public buildings in Texas, there are no ‘small job’ exceptions or exemptions.” She added that if a public institution did in fact violate the law, penalties can be stiff – potentially $10,000 a day per violation.

Asbestos is a human carcinogen and is known to cause deadly cancers when the fibers are inhaled or ingested. Although not everyone exposed develops mesothelioma or lung cancer, anyone exposed has a life-long risk of developing the disease. The US Environmental Protection Agency reports that there is no safe level of exposure. Mesothelioma, a terminal cancer of the linings of the organs, can take decades to develop.

According to the reports, if the asbestos allegations are true, thousands of people who visited, worked at, or lived at Kilgore College could have been exposed to asbestos over the years.

Sources:
Employee: Kilgore College hid asbestos exposure; officials deny allegations
Kilgore College president denies asbestos procedures occurred
Kilgore College president issues response to asbestos allegations
Recordings: Kilgore College official broke asbestos laws, covered it up
State agency confirms Kilgore College asbestos investigation