The Washington County School District in Hagerstown, Maryland recently announced asbestos remediation at two schools: Fountaindale Elementary and E. Russell Hicks Middle School.
On Monday, June 8, following the June 3 summer closure of all District schools, crews began working at Fountaindale, on Northern Avenue, where remediation efforts precede the replacement of all the school’s windows and doors as part of a maintenance program to increase energy efficiency.
Fountaindale, built in 1949, replaced a one-room schoolhouse then on the site, and has since been expanded several times, first in 1954, and later to add a second classroom building, a gymnasium, additional rooms and a connecting hallway. In 1968, a library was also added.
Fountaindale, which currently serves more than 400 students from kindergarten through grade 5, is badly in need of energy upgrades, and the old windows and doors can’t simply be removed and replaced because the caulking contains small amounts of asbestos, according to School District Project Manager Michael Whiteley.
The E. Russell Hicks School, at 1321 S. Potomac St., is another energy-efficiency upgrade, replacing windows doors and heaters in two corridors that connect the two sections of the school. The school, built in 1967, serves 735 children grades 6 through 8. In Hicks, the asbestos is part of fireproofing insulative spray added to the roof deck above the ceiling tiles.
In both cases, according to the District’s Environmental Safety Specialist Tony Suranno, the asbestos has been present since the schools were built and was in good condition, so it did not present a hazard to students, teachers and school staff. Suranno is basing his remarks on a District-wide asbestos management plan that has already identified all the sources of asbestos, and their locations, in all county schools – a plan available to the public via contacting the District’s Facilities Management Office.
Asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral found in rock formations, is fibrous. It was commonly used in insulation, floor tiles, acoustical ceiling tiles, fireproofing sprays and tile adhesives up until about 1989, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limited its use to one percent (by volume) of any product manufactured in the United States. Foreign products are under no restrictions.
Asbestos, when friable or broken, can get into the lungs or mesothelial tissue in the chest and abdomen, causing a number of ailments like asbestosis (a severe, wasting respiratory disease), lung and digestive-system cancers, and mesothelioma. This latter, which lies dormant for several decades before producing symptoms, has a very poor prognosis and no known cure. Most victims are given about 18 months to live once a diagnosis is confirmed.
The Washington County School District’s asbestos management program is a paradigm among educational institutions, providing not only timely information in case of a fire, flood or other disaster, but giving maintenance and renovation workers precise details about existing asbestos hazards.
The renovation work at the schools is being carried out by licensed work crews in compliance with all federal and state laws, according to Suranno, who notes that part of the remediation process includes periodic air sampling and final air testing to be sure that the air is free from asbestos particles.
The asbestos removal is anticipated to take about three weeks, and will cost a combined total of more than $45,000. Precautions included a mandatory notice of asbestos remediation, posted outside E. Russell Hicks on June 4, and caution tape present at playground equipment at Fountaindale. Posting was not needed at the latter, according to Whiteley, because the asbestos content is so small and in such good condition.
However, Fountaindale’s Principal, Joseph Ocheze, did send a letter home with students attending a summer program to inform parents of the ongoing work. Letters were not needed at Hicks because it does not conduct summer school programs.
Sources: Washington County School District website, The Herald Mail