In Tulsa, Oklahoma, aging East Central High School faces some of the same problems facing all older schools nationwide; that is, aging infrastructure, a lack of funding during one of the most widespread recessions since the 1930s, and an asbestos legacy from the last century which affects all schools built before the mid-1970s.
East Central High School, opened in 1966, is now almost a half-century old. In addition to asbestos in the floor tiles – many of which are missing and can’t be replaced until the entire floor (including the glue) is removed – the school also faces an antiquated boiler whose insulation and piping also likely contains asbestos.
In fact, any public or commercial building erected before 1977 has measurable amounts of asbestos, which can be found in the roofing, acoustical ceiling tile or spray-on ceiling or wall soundproofing, wall insulation, floor tiles (including sheet flooring), tile glues or mastics, and the caulk used to set glass inside window and door frames.
Like many school districts nationwide struggling with the issue of aging schools, the Tulsa School District wants to float a bond issue – a referendum for a specific sum of money on which taxpayers vote and which, if approved, is funded through property taxes.
The bond issue in Tulsa will be put before voters on March 2 as a $354-million general referendum. For East Central High, which is in its first year as a Title I school, the allocated $15.9 million in funding is more than an effort to make students safe, or comfortable. It’s about saving their lives.
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral similar to a silicate. Its microscopic fibers, about 1/10,000 the thickness of a human hair, break away from asbestos-containing products that have suffered damage as a result of age or abuse, and after becoming airborne are inhaled or ingested.
When such fibers become lodged in mesothelial tissue – the linings surrounding the heart, lungs, and abdominal organs – irritation occurs. This, in time, can lead to lesions which in turn form cancerous growths classified as mesotheliomas.
These tumors develop very slowly, over decades, doing a lot of damage before the symptoms become severe enough that people seek out a doctor. By that time, sometimes as much as 50 years after the initial exposure, the disease has usually progressed so far that doctors rarely give patients more than 18 months to live.
Unlike many toxic chemical exposures which lead to disease, mesothelioma requires only a single incident. In fact, OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, of the U.S. Dept. of Labor), the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control), and the American Cancer Society all agree that there is no safe, minimum level of asbestos exposure.
If the bond issue is passed, the students at East Central High School will welcome the many safety and education upgrades the school district plans to make. Updated textbooks will make learning more viable, technology upgrades like a computer lab will make learning more fun, but only much-needed asbestos remediation will insure that today’s students remain healthy and alive long enough to put their education to good use serving their communities when it is their turn to become leaders.
Sources: American School and University Magazine, Tulsa World