Several teenagers bent on entertaining themselves at the end of July took to vandalizing St. Mary’s Catholic School in Bloomington, IL. Not only might the destruction lead to a delayed opening of school, but it may also lead to a hefty price tag for cleanup. The cleanup could involve removing asbestos-containing tiles that were damaged during the incident.
According to reports, the teens damaged several classrooms, the gymnasium, the teachers’ lunch room, the basement as well as the boys locker room. Damage done to the school’s old wing, built in 1954, which houses some of the classrooms and the science room, could have released asbestos fibers into the air. State investigators are assessing the damage and are checking to see if any asbestos was released.
“So we have asbestos tile that we want to make sure that we are not breaking into or any of that,” says Principal Jamie Hartrich, according to WJBC news. “We want the safety of our children when they return to school to be the best.”
The principal reports the vandals dumped water and scratched an obscenity on the gym floor, chemicals were dumped on the carpet in the science room, a projector was destroyed and shaving cream was spread throughout the room, according to a July 25 article in Pantagraph. Other classrooms and the hallways also sustained damage.
The concern with asbestos is due to the damaged carpet which covers asbestos-containing tiles. The carpet is glued to the tiles, and any work required to remove the tiles will require specially-trained asbestos workers. The area of the work would also need to be sectioned off from students and teachers.
“The (carpet-covered) floors affected have tile that contain asbestos,” said St. Mary’s Principal Jamie Hartrich, per Pantagraph. “If it’s contained and covered, no one is at risk.”
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asbestos has been used in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire retardant. Asbestos can be found in a wide range of building materials, including roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products. Although no longer used in construction materials, schools built prior to 1980, more than likely, contain some asbestos-containing materials.
Anytime asbestos is disturbed it is necessary to immediately contain and clean the area. Regulations under the EPA’s Clean Air Act specify work practices and guidelines to be followed for management of asbestos to keep the public and workers safe. The goal of asbestos management is to minimize exposure of all building occupants to asbestos fibers. The EPA reports there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
When asbestos fibers become airborne they can be inhaled, leading to scarred and damaged lungs which is why several efforts to clean up properties contaminated with asbestos are being rewarded. Over time, the person can develop mesothelioma, asbestosis or other asbestos-related diseases. Mesothelioma is an incurable cancer that is diagnosed in nearly 3,000 Americans each year.
Hartich said she is hopeful school will start on time after a representative from the Illinois EPA visited St. Mary’s saying he is optimistic that the asbestos work should be an easy removal.