The former VE Carter School of Excellence in Milwaukee was recently listed as an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site for its asbestos and other hazardous materials. The airborne asbestos was so thick in some areas, the EPA said, “it looks like snow.”
The original building was constructed in the late 1800s and designated as a historical site by the city. Milwaukee Public Schools had McKinley, District 15, and Cold Springs Avenue schools on the site. VE Carter Development Corp. took over with a charter school until 2009 and a day care center until 2013.
Then a fire occurred that VE Carter could not afford. The corporation owed $96k in taxes to the city by the time of foreclosure last year. Since then, Milwaukee Public Schools have been encouraged to sell the vacant building, which continues to deteriorate due to the weather.
“This is what happens with these old buildings when they lose a steward,” said On-Scene Coordinator for the EPA’s Superfund Emergency Response Program Kathy Halbur. “When people start destroying the building, they open themselves to exposure.”
People have been entering the building to take metal parts and spray paint graffiti. According to the EPA’s report, “they may have exposed themselves to significant health hazards.”
The airborne asbestos levels in some rooms were four times the workplace limit per federal workplace rules. Asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma cancer over time. According to the National Cancer Institute, “asbestos is a known human carcinogen.”
The building also contains flammable and corrosive chemicals, poisons, PCBs, lead, and hazardous ash and mercury from switches and thermometers. If these aren’t addressed, an explosion or migration of the substances off site could happen.
The $423,356 project is being paid for by the EPA and will begin on Monday. It’s the fourth Superfund project in Milwaukee in the past five years, but the first school building one.