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High School Students Fight Asbestos Exposure in Court

high school studentsHigh school is a time for adolescents to learn more about the responsibilities that adults face. One of the most important things that high school students learn about is using their voice, which is particularly important if they need to seek justice against someone who’s wronged them. Recently, I came across a story in the Merced Sun-Star, which talked about former high school students who were preparing to make statements in federal court against a non-profit organization that illegally used them to perform abatement work. This ultimately put them at risk for asbestos exposure in the process.

Vocational students lacked proper training
In 1998, the Merced County Housing Authority launched a non-profit agency known as Firm Build, which had a goal of modernizing public housing while teaching residents marketable skills. In 2005, the Merced County Office of Education negotiated a lease with Firm Build to renovate a Castle Commerce Center building as an automotive teaching center.

During the project, Firm Build made an appalling attempt at taking short cuts by selecting nine vocational high school students and having them remove asbestos. These youngsters were not properly trained on how to handle asbestos, and didn’t receive any protective material to prevent asbestos exposure.

In March 2013, three project managers pleaded no contest to violating federal asbestos exposure regulations. They were convicted in May.

Final sentencing of these perpetrators is scheduled for August. At this time, the former students, who are now all in their 20s, will make statements before the court about how the project managers endangered their lives. Meanwhile, the federal prosecutor still has time to reach out to more former students who may want to make statements also.

Stories need to be shared
The point of making an impact statement during the sentencing phase of a criminal case is for victims to have their say about how the convicted criminals hurt them, which can influence the sentence that’s ultimately handed down.

If you’ve been hurt by asbestos, you don’t have to wait until the responsible parties have been brought to court. You should tell everyone your story, including news media and your lawmakers, who have to power to control how asbestos is regulated. If you consult a law firm that specializes in asbestos cases, you can also learn about your legal recourse in launching a lawsuit in civil court.

In the meantime, schools have a responsibility to protect students from asbestos exposure. Parents who are worried about whether the schools are doing this job the way they should can contact their local education agencies, which are responsible for inspecting school buildings for potential asbestos exposure dangers.

Every year, asbestos-related diseases such as malignant pleural mesothelioma claim more than 9,900 lives. That figure may not reach its peak for another 10 years or so, partly because these illnesses can take 20 to 50 years to fully manifest themselves. Today’s high school students shouldn’t have to worry about being among those who get sick.

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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