Construction workers at Richwoods High School in Peoria, Illinois, are sealing windows and doors after an investigation revealed that dust found in the school’s classrooms contained traces of asbestos. Crews will carry out the asbestos removal and remediation efforts during the school’s spring break in nearly thirty classrooms.
Last year, workers put new windows in place in the affected classrooms. Inspectors determined that the dust between the new windows and the ceiling tiles was the source of the asbestos contamination. The new windows were part of a $4 million remodeling plan at the school, but workers did not find out about the asbestos until after the project was completed.
The school will not bear the costs of the asbestos remediation work. Instead, the Illinois Department of Labor and the original contractors that carried out the renovation will cover the expenses, including using cleanup crews certified to handle, remove and dispose of the dangerous material.
Bruce Witzig, the building and grounds director for the school district, said that the district’s highest priority is “to make sure students and staff are safe”. He also said that, as crews carry out the process of cleaning up the toxic substance from the classrooms, they would also conduct air quality tests before students are scheduled to return to class.
A Peoria-area environmental engineering firm undertook air quality tests and took material samples from the school in October 2009 and this past January. A Chicago laboratory examined the samples and found little to no asbestos.
Dan Kerns, a communications teacher at the school, taught his classes in one of the affected classrooms. He paid out of his own pocket for further tests after he expressed his worries about the possibility of contamination. The tests Mr. Kerns paid for showed significant levels of asbestos in several classrooms, as much as five times higher than the “safe range” recommended by federal law.
Mr. Kerns also said that the school district should have notified parents that students might have been exposed to asbestos. He also mentioned that school district supervisors amended their plans to have the entire air circulation system cleaned during spring break. Instead, the new plan is to clean a select few areas of the system and save the rest for the summer vacation period so as not to disrupt scheduled classes and final exams.
He also voiced his concerns about how thorough the cleanup project could be if the crews were rushed to complete their work before students returned to class. He said that “the health and safety of the students and staff” should be the primary focus of the project. Currently, at least six classrooms, including Mr. Kerns’, have been sealed off during the remediation efforts.
Asbestos was commonly used as fireproofing and insulation material for buildings constructed from the late 1940s to the early 1980s. When asbestos fibers become loose and airborne, people in the area can inhale them and suffer lung disease and other respiratory ailments. The most dangerous disease that results from asbestos exposure is mesothelioma, a form of cancer that affects the soft tissue surrounding the lungs. Mesothelioma patients typically live less than eighteen months after receiving their diagnosis.
Source: Peoria Journal Star