Oswego County plans major asbestos removal project at DSS building

The Oswego County Department of Social Services building in Mexico

CNY Central has learned that Oswego County is about to embark on a large scale asbestos abatement project at the Department of Social Services headquarters in Mexico.

The decision may require that the building be closed temporarily in the near future, forcing up to 300 employees to provide services from outside locations.

Oswego County recently discovered that a number of ceiling tiles in the older portion of the DSS building contained unacceptable levels of asbestos.

Social Services Commissioner Gregg Heffner says neither the public, nor the employees at the building are in danger. He bases that on air samples that were recently taken inside the building. Heffner told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon that based on a consultant's report, the County was faced with two options.

The first would be to "maintain" the ceiling tiles by keeping them in place and working around them when necessary. Heffner said that plan would be more trouble than it's worth and more expensive in the long run. The other recommendation calls for a completely abatement of the asbestos in the building. He says the County decided on that course of action because it would be more assuring to employees and the general public, and would be less costly.

Nevertheless, Oswego County Legislature Chairman Fred Beardsley says the project will be expensive. Beardsley says the County will have to decide whether to remove the asbestos in stages, or all at once. Beardsley says the County is looking into temporary locations where DSS operations could be moved to, which would involve moving computers and files, providing public transportation and mobile office units.

Beardsley also revealed that the County is testing other buildings for possible asbestos contamination.

Commissioner Heffner says in addition to air sampling, the County has begun a health survey among county workers, but so far has found no evidence of sickness due to asbestos exposure.

CSEA Unit President Bill Reed, who works at the DSS building, says the employees and the union are "satisfied" with the way Oswego County is handling this situation. He says workers are nervous about the threat of asbestos, but are reassured that the County has decided on a full abatement plan.

The asbestos is contained to the "older portion" of the DSS building, which was constructed in 1973. According to Heffner, the general public has little direct contact with those areas.

Beardsley says while they are pursuing the full abatement option, it must will be approved by the full Oswego County Legislature. The cost of the full abatement project could be up to $800,000 or more. That cost covers abatement, relocation, repairs, and modifications. The County is looking into possible reimbursement from the state for a portion of those costs.