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Asbestos Concerns at Cañon City Middle School

Illustration of potential asbestos exposure in a building

Cañon City Middle School teachers are concerned for their students’ safety as they are starting to return to school. Constructed in 1925, the school building’s floors are cracking, and the building in general is falling apart, teachers claim, exposing the school-age children – along with the faculty, administrators, and staff at the school – to the dangers of asbestos exposure.

“I just worry about their safety, teaching Special Education, we may have kids that are in wheelchairs that it’s kind of hard for them to get up to our rooms,” said Special Education Teacher Amber Withers.

As the building deteriorates, asbestos exposure could occur if the hazardous material gets disturbed. There are federal laws in place to help schools remove asbestos, but before that can be done, the school needs to develop a management plan.

According to Superintendent George Walsh, “What each school district is required to do is have an asbestos plan to identify where things are, and we’ve done that. You don’t have to remove it, you have to encapsulate it, and we’ve done our best to do that.”

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 must 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 avoid an episode should it pose a health threat to individuals inside a school.

By law, parents can review management plans in place, and if no action is taken to correct any situations shortly thereafter, the local EPA should be notified immediately. As parents send their kids back to school this fall, they should also check out this safety list to see what actions they can take.

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.

In May, the Cañon City Middle School received a “Building Excellence Schools Today” grant (BEST). BEST is possible because of tax dollars from the commercial sale of marijuana in Colorado, but the Cañon City government needs to match the $5 million grant in order to receive it. This November, the district will need voters supporting a property tax increase to get the additional money required.

Cañon City Middle School isn’t the only place where back to school could mean exposing students to asbestos. The Cañon City School District says it’s even more worried about Washington Elementary, due to a structural study reporting the building would only be safe for five more years.