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Recordings indicate Kilgore College staffers improperly handled and disposed of asbestos materials

By Bridget Ortigo bortigo@news-journal.com | Posted: Monday, December 1, 2014

Kilgore College (Longview, Texas)  maintenance workers hid the burial of hundreds of pounds of hazardous materials and covered up illegal asbestos abatements “all over campus,” according to admissions made in audio recordings obtained by the News-Journal.

College Maintenance Supervisor Rick Murphy said in the recordings made last month by Physical Plant Supervisor Dalton Smith that he also had hauled hundreds of pounds of hazardous materials from campus to be illegally buried elsewhere.

The admissions by Murphy, Safety and Logistics Director Terry Huckaby and Perry Myers, the college’s supervisor of outsourced custodial services, add more names to the list of those suggesting the college for years has been improperly handling asbestos, putting students, staff and others at risk of exposure to the carcinogenic material.

The college has denied the allegations first made by Smith, but there has been disagreement among the college’s spokesman, who said a college official has long approved “small” abatements to be done by maintenance staff, and the college president, who said no such activities have been conducted by unlicensed personnel.

Neither the official who was said to OK such operations, Director of Special Projects Dan Beach, nor President Bill Holda nor college spokesman Chris Craddock returned phone calls seeking comment. Murphy and Huckaby declined to comment on the recordings, which were provided to the newspaper by Smith.

In one of the recordings, Murphy reassures Smith about their activities.

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Murphy says. “You’re one of the smaller fish. Big fish is Holda and then Dan (Beach) and (President of Finance) Duane (McNaney).”

The maintenance staffers go on to talk about the extent of asbestos on campus.

“It’s all over this campus. Everybody is (exposed),” Huckaby says. “We’re aware of it, but we don’t have any control of fixing it. (The administration) ain’t going to put us under the bus.”

Buried on, off campus

The dump sites discussed include the residence of former Maintenance Supervisor Leon Dodgen, the Kilgore Police Department’s firing range and a spot underneath chillers in the mechanical building east of the fine arts building on campus, Murphy says.

Smith discusses the illegal dumping and abatements in a recording with Huckaby, and Smith tells Huckaby that Murphy confessed to dumping materials at Dodgen’s house.

“Now, I do know that,” Huckaby replies.

Smith asks Huckaby why they would haul it to Dodgen’s house.

“Just to get rid of it,” Huckaby says. “They probably figured they could push it all off over there and nobody would know about it, and it’d be OK.”

In another recording, Smith talks to Murphy about Dodgen visiting the college before a recent Environmental Protection Agency Peer Audit review. Smith has said Dodgen told him not to bring EPA auditors to his property.

“There’s a ton of stuff out there,” Murphy says about Dodgen’s property. “Dodgen did it just to get rid of stuff. I’ve took dump truck loads of stuff out there. There’s stuff sitting around everywhere out there.”

Murphy also tells Smith he dumped asbestos materials in dumpsters “all over the place” after an abatement at the Old Main building.

“I probably took a couple pickup loads of trash bags,” Murphy says. “Took them out in double bags ... to dumpsters all over the place ... just doing what I was told. I suited up (for the abatement).”

Murphy talks of burying a “bunch” of materials under chillers behind the Fine Arts Building under the direction of Jerry Rayburn, the college’s former maintenance supervisor.

Asbestos abatements

Smith also asks Murphy for an inventory list of all illegal asbestos abatement sites on campus over the years.

In response, Murphy tells Smith of an abatement he did earlier this year at the college’s new Health Sciences Center, half of which belongs to Allegiance Hospital as a working medical facility. The college renovated the other half this year to house its health science classes.

Smith asks Murphy in another recording how much he abated at the hospital, to which Murphy replies, “50 feet of (wall) base.”

Murphy then recalls a Transet Co. worker at the hospital renovation who caught Murphy removing the asbestos material.

“He asked, ‘That asbestos?’ I said ‘No,’ ” Murphy said, then laughter is heard on the recording.

Murphy also tells Smith he did two abatements at Dodson Auditorium.

Smith asks about the size of the abatements.

“Ten square feet, between the two of them,” Murphy replies.

Huckaby also talks about an illegal asbestos abatement done by him and Murphy in Dodson Auditorium during Rangerettes Revels this year.

“I was in there. I was holding the bag while (Murphy) scraped it,” Huckaby says.

Murphy goes on to talk about illegal abatements done at the college in the past.

“At the Old Main, I took it all out, in the late ’90s,” Murphy said. “I knew it was wrong. Under Jerry Rayburn, I’d come in at night, suit up. Wet it down. But it wasn’t right. It was all under the covers.”

Murphy also told Smith he removed asbestos at the Bonnie Porter Business Administration Building.

Smith and Murphy then discuss abatements in offices at the fine arts building.

EPA Peer Audit

The workers also talk about the college’s recent Environmental Protection Agency Peer Audit review, in which auditors did not examine areas of violations and college workers did not tell the auditors of any violations, under the college administration’s advisement.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” Huckaby says.

Smith told the News-Journal that he has repeatedly attempted to tell the college’s administration of violations and could not find a listening ear.

In recordings that were the subject of an earlier story, Smith takes Beach on a tour of possible asbestos exposure sites around campus.

Smith said he had offered to let Holda and other administrators listen to the recordings he made, but the offer was declined.

Investigations

In one recording, Smith talks with Huckaby, Myers and Murphy about federal investigators checking into claims of environmental violations at the college.

Smith tells the workers he has talked to FBI and EPA officials, who are investigating the college.

“They didn’t promise me any amnesty from the stuff I did,” Smith says. “We didn’t have the right to expose anybody (through illegal asbestos abatements) without air testing.”

Smith asks the workers if they want to voluntarily talk to investigators and advises them to hire personal attorneys.

“If you told them everything you know,” Myers says, “then there’s all kinds of chips out there.”

Smith tells the three that investigators asked him not to tell anyone of the investigation but says Beach already knew the FBI was investigating the college for other matters.

“Oh yeah, they’ve been here a long time,” Myers says.

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