The summer months may mean the start of vacation for students and teachers, but it also means the start of a long, hot season of work for construction and remodeling crews. In some cases, these remodeling projects will also involve removing and disposing of insulation, ceiling tiles and other construction materials that contain asbestos. The toxic substance was in widespread use when many of today’s school buildings were constructed, and now school boards across the country are facing the issue of cleanup.
At the Asheville High School in Asheville, North Carolina, work crews are in the process of taking out asbestos from the flooring of the school’s older, inactive cafeteria. Workers found the substance during their efforts to peel away at layers of flooring materials. The floor repairs are part of a renewal project for the old building estimated to cost nearly $3 million. The area had been sealed off before work started, so students and faculty were not exposed to the asbestos.
Bob McGrattan, the school district’s assistant superintendent, said that the area around the cafeteria had been off limits to students since January. Since the discovery of asbestos in the floors, workers have sealed off the area to prevent further access. School board officials estimate that the asbestos remediation portion of the project will cost about $22,000, with an additional $3,000 to decontaminate the workers’ tools that originally uncovered the asbestos.
Mr. McGrattan did not give an estimate as to the how much time the asbestos removal work would require. Any time estimates would be dependent on the size of the area and the extent of the contamination. However, he did say that any work would be under a “tight time frame”, as classes are scheduled to resume in August. The cafeteria space, which was constructed in 1929, was to be converted into additional offices and include a new handicapped-accessible entrance.
A similar problem has also appeared at a high school in Holyoke, Massachusetts. A subcontractor assigned to replace windows and doors at the school found high levels of asbestos in samples of old window caulk. Modern caulking compounds no longer contain asbestos, which was widely used as a bonding agent in caulks and cements during the mid-twentieth century.
Mary E. Hoye, the local director for the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said that the agency is investigating another possible asbestos discovery at the school after receiving an anonymous complaint. The investigation will attempt to determine if workers exercised the proper safety precautions required for handling and disposing of asbestos, which include wearing protective coveralls and special breathing masks to prevent exposure to the hazardous dust.
Forbes & Wheeler, a local environmental testing firm, conducted regular air quality tests during the renovation. According to Stephen W. Niec, a project designer with the company, all of their test results came back within safe levels. Mr. Niec said that his company would do more tests to follow up on the OSHA matter, but said that a worker may have seen another type of dust and mistaken it for asbestos.
Sources: Asheville Citizen Times, MassLive.com