Will Costs Stop A School From Removing Its Asbestos?

Illustration of potential asbestos exposure in a building

Although Ocean View School District has approved asbestos removal at two of its schools, the abatement at the remaining Oak View Elementary school is being delayed per the district’s 4-1 vote by its trustees. (Vote required unanimous approval.)

American Technologies Inc. was the asbestos contractor hired for the work who will receive $1.35 million for Hope View and another $1.22 million for Lake View; however, the additional $1.36 million for Oak View will not be seen anytime soon.

Trustee Debbie Cotton was the responsible party for rejecting the asbestos contract, her main reason being that it will put the district into an even bigger financial hole. (Ocean View has a $15.8 million projected budget shortage come the 2016-17 school year.) “I’m not going to support this [contract] this evening, and if it holds, it holds it. We need to figure out how we’re going to pay for it,” said Cotton.

All of the additional work will cost the district $401,386, but Trustee John Brisco was in opposition and said, “We need to have a school site that’s fully usable and fully safe. They should get the same treatment, the same facilities, and same consideration as Hope View and Lake View. A ‘no’ vote by anybody on this board would put that whole process in jeopardy.”

Although Oak View did close after asbestos was discovered during a project in July, any asbestos exposure could cause mesothelioma cancer. 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. Asbestos insulation, asbestos floor ceiling and tiling, and many other building products made use of the mineral due to its strong heat and fire resistant properties.

Students aren’t the only factor to consider regarding asbestos in schools. 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 crumbly. For Ocean View, the main buildings at all three schools have remained closed while some students have returned to portable buildings at Oak View and Hope View. Other students are still being bused to different campuses.

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

In this case, Ocean View proposed the abatement asbestos in Oak View. By law, the parents can review the management plan in place and if no action is taken to correct the situation soon, the local EPA should be notified immediately.