TAUNTON – In what has become an all too familiar scenario in Massachusetts, school officials at the Maxham Elementary School dismissed classes for the day on Wednesday, April 29, 2009 after asbestos was discovered in the building. Asbestos has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a known cancer-causing substance, and students were sent home after a city building official performed a routine inspection at the Maxham school, at which time it was discovered that a pipe in a crawl space had been insulated with asbestos. The building inspector noted that the encapsulated pipe insulation had begun to peel, which caused asbestos fibers to become exposed to the environment where they could present a risk to health.
School officials said that students were sent home to give an outside contractor an opportunity to inspect the insulation in order to determine if a health threat existed, and if so, to take appropriate steps to remediate the situation. School officials wanted to stress that the safety of the students, faculty, and others at the school was of the utmost importance, and that no one wanted to take any chances when it came to exposure to the extremely hazardous material.
“This is purely a precautionary measure erring on the side of caution,” explained Taunton Mayor Charles Crowley. “Every old building has asbestos in it,” he continued. “If it’s in good condition, it’s not a problem.” Crowley decided to close the 55 year old school after first conferring at an emergency meeting with Taunton’s Building Superintendent Wayne Walkden, members of the School Committee, and School Superintendent Arthur W. Stellar, as well as other city officials.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral that is characterized by a wide variety of desirable qualities. The material can be mined from the earth or extracted from a above ground rock formations, and while the mineral exists in numerous colors, chemical compositions, and types, all forms of asbestos are exceptionally resistant to heat (the material is nearly fireproof), are nearly impervious to damage from mold, moisture, and harsh chemical corrosives, have superior insulating properties and more. Because of the many unique properties of asbestos, during the first half of the 20th century, the material found its way into countless everyday products including a wide variety of building materials.
The broad usage of asbestos came to a halt in the early 1970s, however, when medical experts confirmed that the material posed a significant threat to health. Researchers found that, when broken or fractured, asbestos released microscopic fibers into the air where they could then be inhaled into the lungs, and up to 50 years later, these fibers could cause serious diseases such as the incurable and inevitably fatal form of cancer known as malignant pleural mesothelioma. Because asbestos is extremely toxic, school officials across the country are closing educational institutions on a near daily basis due to discoveries of the material in classrooms or numerous other school building locations.
Mayor Crowley reported that, in addition to repairing the damaged insulation, air quality tests were being performed in the area of contamination. “Everything could be fine,” said Crowley. “If the tests find there is no threat to public safety, the school will re-open on Friday. We’re working on contingency plans,” added the Mayor, “and the Principal is well aware of it.”
Parents of students at the elementary school were notified of the situation in a letter sent to them on Wednesday. Parents were also informed of the fact that free day care would be available to parents at the Elizabeth Pole School at 110 County Street if the Maxham school needs to remain closed for any extended period of time. Again, the closing of the Maxham school is just one of a series of asbestos related school closings in the state, and the Mayor has ordered an immediate asbestos inspection of all city-owned buildings.
Source: Taunton Gazette