It took a Tweet of a masked worker to alert the community to what appeared to be an asbestos abatement project being conducted at Ellet High School in Akron, OH. As is often the case with social media, the photo quickly went viral and parents inundated the school’s administration with angry phone calls.
According to a March 6 article on Cleveland.com, the photo of the man wearing a respirator protective mask and hazmat suit standing beside an asbestos warning sign in a classroom was taken during the removal of damaged ceiling tiles. The school spokesperson reports that the work was being performed after hours, and that the sign and mask are required by law when dealing with projects where asbestos may be disturbed.
“We were not removing asbestos, we were removing ceiling tiles,” said Rob Boxler, environmental services manager for Akron Public Schools. He added that there was no damage to the ceiling area known to contain asbestos, reports Cleveland.com, but that the district was required under law to follow the asbestos removal guidelines in case the work disturbed the ceiling material.
Boxler reported that the tiles were glued to asbestos-containing plaster, according to an Ohio.com article.
Following is an excerpt from a statement published March 5 on the Akron Public Schools website:
“As a matter of routine, and in adherence to federal guidelines, we are using crews authorized in asbestos removal to do this work, even though this is not an asbestos removal procedure. We must, however, have workers trained in asbestos removal to remove ceiling tiles. The tiles are glued to plaster that may or may not contain small amounts of asbestos (our studies show the concentration is at 2.7%). That material, however, is undisturbed; and the environment in the school is safe and secure.”
Although many schools, and other buildings, were built with materials that contain asbestos, and still harbor asbestos-containing materials, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asbestos that is in good condition and left undisturbed is unlikely to present a health risk.
However, risk of mesothelioma, lung cancer or other asbestos-related diseases becomes an issue when asbestos is damaged or disturbed where asbestos fibers become airborne and can be inhaled.
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.