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Merced County Office of Education

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.

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