Asbestos Adds $100,000 To Elementary School’s Improvement Plans

Illustration of potential asbestos exposure in a building

Asbestos was discovered in the elementary pods of the Van-Far school district, which will cost an extra $100,000 and change the order of improvements originally outlined in Proposition A for the next year — an already $2.1 million investment.

Prop A included the replacement of 23 interior doors at the high school as well as a new Pre-K program with exterior doors, a couple of offices, restroom renovations, and tiling in the library at the elementary school. However, Superintendent Stephen Hunter says, “The asbestos has to be abated. We will rebid the pod portion of the project to include the asbestos abatement, construction of walls, and additional duct work.”

Superintendent Hunter’s plan to rebid the pod is a smart one, because exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma cancer. In fact, the U.S. government issued warnings in the 1970s about exposure to this toxic mineral, but many older public buildings, including schools, still contain it. Insulation, popcorn ceilings, tile and many other building products used asbestos due to its heat- and fire-resistant properties.

“The asbestos was not anticipated. It was discovered by testing. It’s not in the drywall, but it all has to come out,” said Hunter. “There’s no way to avoid disturbing it when new duct work goes in.”

Moreover, students aren’t the only factor to consider. In a 1999-2001 study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a substantially elevated rate of mesothelioma cancer was found amongst teachers where the only known exposure for each participant was on the job.

There are no laws yet in place to remove all asbestos from schools, but each school should have a management plan in case the toxic mineral becomes damaged or friable. Luckily, the asbestos found in the pods were built in 1974 and haven’t had any improvements since, but Hunter will still be hiring an asbestos abatement company to handle the disposal of the toxic substance while the new Pre-K program runs out of a trailer.

As a result of an act established in the 1980s by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all management plans must be updated and new inspections are to occur periodically in order to decide if the discovered asbestos should be left as is, encapsulated, or removed by an abatement professional. Custodians are also trained to recognize asbestos and taught how to handle the situation should it pose a health threat to individuals inside a school.

In this case, Hunter proposed the abatement of asbestos in Van-Far Elem School. By law, the parents can review the management plan in place and if no action is taken to correct the situation, the local EPA should be notified immediately. Fortunately, the district plans to rebid the asbestos removal and constructions costs so everything can be completed by next summer.