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Toxic crystalline Silica contamination in our home was another nightmare created by AquaGuard’s gross negligence. One would think following the disastrous smearing of hazardous tar all over the interior basement walls of our basement that a company would be motivated to act quickly and effectively to clear up the mess. A reputable company would or at least should have. However we were dealing with, as they like to call themselves “The Trusted Name in Waterproofing” and had to endure an outrage every bit as bad, if not worst, than the first. As the arbitrator noted:
“The Contractor had the Subcontractor return to the project to remove the black tar. The Subcontractor began to so by mechanically grinding the tar off the concrete and block walls of the basement. The Subcontractor had proceeded to remove a small portion of the tar from the walls when the Owner discovered a house filled with dust in the air and layers of dust all over the floors and furniture. Mr Young (Note: He is a certified Indoor Environmentalist. See Dust Test Report) also had samples of the dust analyzed, and he concluded that the dust contained 58.6% crystaline silica and that “[t]his dust is a health hazard and should be properly removed from the home.”
This description is accurate and a fraction of what happened. As I testified under oath, when I saw the dust spreading throughout the house I went into the basement and discovered to my horror that the two workers had taken no precautions to evacuate the dust from the basement as they conducted their uncontrolled grinding of the walls. The dust was so thick you could hardly see from one end of the basement to the other. Worse, the workers themselves had little or no protection from the dust. One had a rag wrapped around his head with a breathing mask that was clogged and ineffective. The other had one of those cheap dust masks you buy for light work; totally inappropriate for the environment they were exposed to. I asked them to stop and leave. See the following picture of the “protection” they used.
What you see in this picture are several masks left behind by the workers, along with the plastic cover for the grinder wheel used on the walls. The grey dirt-like substance underneath is the ground wall dust as collected by the workers using a Shop vac and dumped into the box. When I inspected the work in the basement, just before telling them to leave, I found one worker using the grinder which was spreading dust in all directions. The other worker had the Shop vac nozzle pointed at one side of the grinder wheel in a pitiful attempt to catch the dust! There is, in fact, a device made to go over such a grinder wheel, enclosing it from all sides. I assume it is more effective. Regardless, the entire basement should have been sealed off, adequate ventilation provide for other spaces to ensure whatever dust escaped was evacuated from the house, and the workers properly clothed with breathing apparatus etc. That, apparently, was beyond the knowledge or will of the crew AquaGuard turned loose on my home.
The hazards of crystalline silica are well-known. According to the American Lung Association: “Silicosis is a lung disease that is caused by inhaling tiny bits of silica. Silica is a common mineral that is part of sand, rock and mineral ores like quartz. People who work in jobs where they could breathe in these tiny silica bits—like sandblasting, mining, construction and many others—are at risk for Silicosis. The silica dust can cause fluid buildup and scar tissue in the lungs that cuts down your ability to breathe. Silicosis cannot be cured, but you can prevent it if you take specific steps to protect yourself and your family.” For more details on the disease use this link on Silicosis.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has numerous documents, warning sheets, etc on the problems. They also specify procedures for working in such environments, practically all of which were ignored by AquaGuard. This wasn’t simple ignorance as I had spoken to the General Manager regarding the correct way to remove the tar material and he was well aware of what needed to be done. As was often the case, what he knew, what he said, and what was actually done were worlds apart. In an example of how he deals with such problems I quote from his letter to the Maryland Home Improvement Commission where he laments his inability to address the problem in my basement, pitifully attempting to blame me by stating: “We sent the original contractor back to repair the walls and he (i.e., me) stopped the work due to dust problems…”. (See: AquaGuard Response to MHIC Complaint)
As OSHA points out, “If it’s Silica, it’s not just dust”. The painful, deadly lung disease of Silicosis is the direct result of breathing a “dust problem” of the type created by AquaGuard’s total disregard for rules and regulations too numerous to list here. The disease can take many, many years before its destruction of the lungs becomes apparent. In other words, the two workers who were sent into this situation may never know the cause of their illness, if in fact they suffer from this grossly negligent behavior. Unfortunately I didn’t report this situation to Maryland’s Occupational, Safety, and Health Association. It was yet another example of reckless disregard for the rules and regulations that exist to protect workers and the people who live or use the structures that are being worked on. In a future posting will discuss a similar behavior with regard to the handling of asbestos tiles on the floor of the basement.
Speaking to professionals in the business the common, actually common sense, assumption is that poured concrete walls of this age likely contain a large percentage of Silica. In our case, unfortunately, AquaGuard didn’t employ a reputable professional and they themselves provided no oversight of his activities.
Look again at the picture at the heading of the post. The wall shows a thick layer of Silica dust covering the black tar as well as the ground-down portion of the wall. What you cannot see is how thick the dust was in the basement and how thick it was upstairs in the living area. You cannot feel the grimy, almost greasy feel of the dust and how filthy you would feel every time you were forced to go into the basement. You cannot hear my wife Kathleen crying, completely broken down by the horrors that AquaGuard kept visiting upon us. I pleaded with her to let me keep working with AquaGuard as the best path to resolving these issues, but I promised her their disreputable subcontractor would never be allowed back in the house.