North Providence parents demand answers, accountability over radon testing

Bridget Morisseau, superintendent of North Providence schools, said she'll be sure that the school department keeps records of everything related to health, welfare and saftey. (WJAR)

With a new school year set to begin on Wednesday, staff members and a number of parents in North Providence concerned with their children’s health are demanding answers and accountability from the school department.

Bob Clayton and other parents tell the NBC 10 I-Team that they are concerned with sending their children to school after an I-Team investigation found elevated levels of radon were measured in a number of North Providence schools.

“Every question we have asked falls on deaf ears,” said Clayton, who has a first grader at Whelan Elementary and another at child Birchwood Middle School. “This superintendent took responsibility for what happened prior to her administration and said going forward it would be different, but parents feel like we are back to square one.”

Clayton is referring to reports in 2002 and 2015 obtained by the NBC 10 I-Team that show elevated radon levels at Whelan. Clayton requested reports from the school department, but the school department didn't have them available - until Tuesday afternoon, one day before the start of school. Superintendent Bridget Morisseau told the NBC 10 I-Team that she requested all radon records from the Department of Health, but only learned of the additional radon reports (dating back to 1996 and 2002) when she was contacted by NBC 10.

That will change moving forward she said.

"We will make sure that we have records of everything related to health, welfare and safety in our schools," Morisseau told the I-Team.

A decade without testing

An NBC 10 I-Team investigation found schools went untested for radon for nearly 14 years.

“They allowed my child to go to school without anyone notifying me that there was a risk of radon in that school,” Clayton said.

Now he and other parents and teachers want to know whether it’s safe for their kids to be in those schools. They also want someone to be held accountable and are demanding better communication from the school committee and the administration.

On Tuesday, Morisseau told NBC 10 News that she’d be hosting an informational meeting that night to discuss any concerns from parents and update them on changes at the school including a new mitigation system that was placed in the school’s gym.

“Just because you put lipstick on a pig doesn’t mean the danger went away,” Clayton said of the updates.

Morisseau, however, said she is confident that the Whelan and all the town’s schools are safe.

Mitigation not complete

Morisseau received lead and asbestos reports from Vortex Inc., but radon tests cannot be conducted until the fall.

Vortex is the same company that was tasked with handling the mitigation of radon at Whelan and McGuire schools, according to documents obtained by the I-Team.

Vortex President John Carbone first told the I-Team that the mitigation was never done and that he “was never contracted to do those.”

“I’m not a radon inspector, I’m not licensed to do it,” he said. “I expedite things for the town, we get licensed people through.”

Documents obtained by the NBC 10 I-Team appear to show Vortex was hired to do the work.

One document from the Rhode Island Department of Health shows the school department “contracted with Vortex Inc. to oversee the contracting of these mitigation projects,” referring to McGuire and Whelan.

Another document sent by the school department to the state health department says, “we have been in touch with Mr. Carbone to remind him that two rooms, Rm. 13 and Rm. 14 at Whelan School need to be radon mitigated before the end of March.”

One of those documents was written and signed by Armand Milazzo Jr., the then director of non-instructional operations and the other by Paul Vorro, the then superintendent. Vortex’s Carbone was CCd on both documents.

Carbone subsequently told the I-Team that he “probably wasn’t hired,” but couldn’t recollect anything about the required mitigation. “I can go through my records and check, but I do 400 to 500 projects a year.”

Demand for accountability

Mitigation was never completed and now Clayton and other parents want someone to be held accountable.

“They put lipstick on a pig, they painted an awning and put on a new roof,” Clayton said. “If they didn’t correct the radon in the classrooms then they’ve wasted their money and they’ve lost trust of their parents.”

Morisseau would not say whether the school department will continue with Vortex as a vendor but she did say she things would change now that she’s in charge.

“If the school department is telling the Department of the Health that they’ve reminded a private business owner that he needs to do the mitigation and John Carbone doesn’t respond, the fact remains the mitigation needed to be done,” Morisseau said shifting the question of responsibility back on Milazzo the then facilities director.

Milazzo is now facilities director at Lincoln Public Schools where he’s hired John Carbone of Vortex as its professional asbestos consultant.

"I really need time to dig into all the information," Morisseau said. "What I can tell you and tell the families here in North Providence and the teachers and staff is that we’ll make sure we make a solid informed decision about any contractors that we work with here."

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