Questions about Asbestos at Gallup Elementary School

GALLUP, N.M. —A former state inspector and school workers are claiming asbestos was being yanked out of a ceiling where food is prepared at a New Mexico elementary school. “It was standard routine. If you came across asbestos, just remove it and go along with it,” said Brice Rohrer, a maintenance man with the Gallup-McKinley County School District. Rohrer said he’s worked in that position for 17 years. He said three years ago at Red Rock Elementary, a pipe broke in the cafeteria. He said a crew went to fix it, but two men stopped when they saw it was covered with asbestos. One did not.

He said asbestos went flying right into the cafeteria over the food counter during lunch, which caught the attention of a state inspector. Benny Kling, now retired from an environmental enforcement officer position, said Rohrer’s story is spot on “Asbestos was removed from the school during school hours without proper protection (and) without proper persons being trained and by contractors who were not licensed or trained to remove asbestos,” said Kling. He said he turned the case over to the feds.

A spokesman with New Mexico’s Environment Department said tests were done at Red Rock and samples were taken, but there was no evidence of asbestos. Kling said that’s because by then, the insulation labeled as asbestos had been removed. The school was built in 1966. John Hartog has worked at the school for more than 30 years. He’s been principal for 11. “I have no fear of asbestos being here,” he said. He said four years ago some was found in the gym plumbing, but it has been removed. He said there is none in the cafeteria, and parents should not be concerned. State Sen. George Munuz said parents hadn’t been properly notified for months. The state says the feds are involved. They were unable to be reached for comment.