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Keeping Asbestos Abatement Honest

asbestos abatementI was disturbed to read a story in the Chicago Tribune about an Illinois school district that got in trouble with the law for keeping inaccurate records on asbestos abatement. These incidents may have needlessly put students and faculty at risk of deadly diseases such as malignant mesothelioma.

One teacher is looking for answers
In 2006, the Elm Place, Sherwood and Indian Trail schools of North Shore School District 112 were conducting asbestos abatement projects. However, the jobs were put on hold in the middle of 2007, when the state’s Department of Public Health found violations within the schools’ record keeping practices.

Although the abatement work resumed one month later, Steve Bartel, who teaches fifth grade at Lincoln School, still has questions. He told the news source that he’s worried the asbestos abatement work in 2006 that took place in other schools may have had shoddy record keeping as well.

Bartel has made several impassioned appearances before the school board demanding answers. When he didn’t get them, he filed Freedom of Information Act requests, which also went without a response.

“I can’t understand how they can be so insensitive to people having been exposed to fibers that are linked to asbestosis and mesothelioma,” Bartel told the Chicago Tribune. He also revealed that he had been professionally reprimanded for his actions.

Meanwhile, officials with the school district are reassuring parents that all the asbestos abatement work is conducted by specially trained and licensed professionals, and that air analyses to test for asbestos fibers are conducted by separate contractors. Ultimately, they claimed that no one was harmed throughout this whole process.

Where can asbestos lurk in my child’s school?
It’s important to remember that asbestos doesn’t pose any health hazards as long as it’s left intact. Still, all people, including children, should be aware of the presence of asbestos so they know to avoid it.

When it comes to schools, asbestos is most likely to be used for insulation, flooring and ceiling tiles, cement pipes, corrugated paper pipe wrapping, decorative insulation and spray-applied insulation. The school should have a record of where these items are on campus, and let people know that they’re not to be disturbed.

Schools also need to conduct regular inspections and have a management plan – all of which need to be documented in records that are available for public review.

Don’t give up until you get the answers you need
Experts estimate that every year in the U.S., asbestos-related diseases claim nearly 10,000 lives. Asbestos exposure is clearly no joke, and should be taken seriously by everyone.

That’s why we find this story appalling on several levels. Not only did the school districts fail to maintain accurate and trustworthy records, but they also may have put their teachers and students at risk.

If you have concerns about your child’s school, contact the local education agency and ask to speak with the person who’s designated to handle asbestos-related activities.

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