We have reported numerous times on asbestos discovery and removal in U.S. schools. Just a year ago, we reported about the concerns raised by U.S. Senators over the safety risk asbestos poses to children in the school system. Now, school officials in New Jersey who thought they had already addressed asbestos in a Vineland high school had to shell out $1 million for asbestos abatement as part of a renovation project.
According to an Aug. 11 article from The Daily Journal, workers at the Vineland High School South of New Jersey were nearing the end of a two-year, $10 million renovation to the heating and air conditioning system when asbestos was discovered. During the demolition phase of the project, the construction crew discovered asbestos in a panel behind insulation.
“This is not about getting it done; it’s about getting it done right,” said Charles McKenna, the N.J. Schools Development Authority CEO. “We are willing to pay the money because this is a matter of safety; safety for the school and more importantly, safety for the children.”
Asbestos is a known carcinogen and is proven to cause mesothelioma, a serious cancer caused by breathing in the asbestos fibers that then become lodged in the thin membrane that lines and encases the lungs. It can take decades for symptoms to develop, leaving those exposed with a life-long health risk. Often called “asbestos cancer,” mesothelioma is highly aggressive and is resistant to many cancer treatments. The EPA reports that there is no safe level of exposure.
The additional cost and slow-down of the project is particularly dismaying to McKenna who said a contractor conducted asbestos abatement at the school nearly 15 years ago. Apparently the work was not completed.
“We assumed that all the asbestos had been remediated in the places that your contractor said they were,” he said. “When we started opening up the ceilings, contrary to those representations made by the contractor, we found friable asbestos.”
Asbestos in asbestos-containing products, such as construction materials including floor and ceiling tiles, insulation, and cement products, that has not been damaged does not present a health hazard and can remain in place. However, once the asbestos is damaged and can be crumbled, the level of danger becomes too high for people to be around it.
McKenna hopes to have all the work completed by Aug. 31 so as not to disrupt the start of school. The school’s staff, as well as the contractors, are committed to working extra hours to make sure children are back in school when expected, and are not faced with any asbestos issues. Students are scheduled to return to school on Sept. 6.
“They are going to walk into a school that is safe, asbestos-free and has no health problems,” McKenna said.
If you are concerned about asbestos in your child’s school, contact your school administrator. According to the EPA, your local school district/local education agency must nominate a “designated person” to perform and delegate, if necessary, the management of asbestos in a school building. This person should be able to address any specific concerns you have about management of asbestos in your child’s school.