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Asbestos Removal Uncovers Unknown Areas of Coughlin High School

Jillian Duff covers pressing news for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

Jillian Duff

June 30, 2016

Wilkes-Barre, PA - A sealed stairwell, possible skylight, and ample steel were found in Coughlin High School as a result of recent asbestos removal work. The work was completed last week by a contractor named Apollo, Inc.

Air quality tests were conducted afterwards, which came back at safe levels. Then visitors were allowed to go into the auditorium after a month of it being under construction.

When asbestos is in good condition, it does not present a hazard, but when it becomes worn or damaged the fibers may flake off and become airborne. At that point, it’s possible for anyone in the vicinity to inhale these toxic fibers, which in turn, can become embedded in the chest.

The chance of developing mesothelioma cancer as a result is in direct proportion to the duration and amount of asbestos exposure that an individual sustains. 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.

In order to complete the removal at Coughlin, walls were stripped down to the brick and floors ripped down to plywood. Stripping the walls exposed the possible skylight. All steel and concrete structure was left exposed. After tearing down the wall coverings on the stairs, workers discovered a passageway leading to the basement.

Any other material from the rest of the school will be stored in the auditorium until it can be properly disposed of. A hole was made in the ceiling above the stage so materials from the fourth floor can be disposed of more easily.

This was when the hidden steel was discovered in a large metal truss. Luckily, the steel can be used to offset the cost of demolition. The stage is sealed with plastic.

Many believe that students, teachers, school staff, and administrators are unknowingly exposed to asbestos still today. In fact, France, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, and the U.K. have all banned the dangerous substance.

More specifically, 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. Unfortunately, some 30 million pounds of it are still used each year in the United States.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), which was signed into law in 1986 and aims to protect students, teachers and school staff from the dangers of asbestos. However, it does not protect against the long-term side effects.

According to the Environmental Working Group Action Fund’s Vice President, Alex Formuzis, any school built before 1981 most likely contains asbestos. The group also claims that many states are not addressing the issue the way they need to.

By October, the asbestos work will be complete at the high school. The school plans to continue forward with demolishing the building and replacing it with a bigger high school to accommodate 9th through 12th graders from Coughlin and Meyers high schools.

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