It was over two years ago, in the aftermath of an outbreak of swine flu in several Queens schools that Paul O’Brien remembers feeling a sense of profound unease.
While the threatening pathogen’s limited impact and relatively quick departure had most of the city breathing a sigh of relief, O’Brien shuddered to think that it was probably left up to janitors and untrained cleaning staff to swab down the premises where the flu had spread.
“You likely have people going in with a bucket and a mop and no training in how to handle infectious diseases or even protect themselves,” O’Brien said.
“Did they do testing to make sure that they cleaned up all of the outbreak? It left me feeling like there was a major gap in the regulations.”
To O’Brien, an executive at Pinnacle Environmental Corporation, a cleaning company that handles specialized types of remediation work such as asbestos and lead removal, the message was clear.
The city, he says, ought to impose wider swath of guidelines for how best to remediate a host of contaminants and also put in place regulations that would require qualified personnel to conduct the work.
“The rules say that you need to have a special license and training to remove dangerous materials like asbestos and lead, why shouldn’t there be some regulations that require trained personnel to say clean up exotic viruses and bacteria in a hospital?” O’Brien said.
“I was in a buildng in midtown in recent weeks where a sewer line had ruptured allowing waste to fill the basement,” O’Brien said.
“It wasn’t a job for the buildnig super. You’re dealing with dangerous waste and chemicals and you need guys who are trained on how to properly deal with the spill and also make sure that they are wearing the proper equipment and using the right techniques to protect themselves.”
The Environmental Contractors Association, a trade organization that represents some 3,000 specialized cleaning professionals, has spurred the city to take on the task of putting better regulations in place.
According to O’Brien, who was one of the founding members of the ECA over 15 years ago, Councilman James Gennaro of Queens is drafting legislation to mandate that certain risky cleanup work or remediation that involves dangerous substances or infectious diseases not currently under regulation be handled by qualified cleaning specialists.
O’Brien said that most landlords have embraced the idea and that REBNY has offered support so far for the legislation, though a finished package has not yet been presented.
“Most of the blue-chip landlords already turn to specialized clean up companies for difficult or dangerous jobs,” O’Brien said, citing that firms like his carry higher levels of insurance and worker’s compensation benefits that protect landlords in the case that an cleaning employee is injured during a job.
“They know that they’re getting something for the extra money that they spend hiring the right people,” O’Brien said.