With news of school shootings every year sensationalized by the corporate media, it’s all too easy to overlook the far greater and much more common danger in our schools–toxic buildings. Faculty at two high schools in Fullerton, California, reported at the end of the last academic year that school district administrators failed to issue warnings about asbestos in buildings. Troy, La Habra and four other high schools in the Orange County community, all of which were built during the 1950s and 60s, underwent renovations as part of a $68 million program to update electrical wiring and plumbing. However, it appears that asbestos abatement was inadequate. Dina Skrabalak, a Spanish language instructor at Troy High School, discovered five plastic bags of asbestos waste stashed near air circulation equipment in May of this year. School district superintendent George Giorakis says that he ordered the bags removed the same day Skrabalak reported them. This was followed by an investigation into how the asbestos bags came to be there and how long they had been in that location.
Meanwhile, Skrabalak says that she has since developed chest pains, bronchitis and symptoms of asthma. She expressed fears that “… there was asbestos floating around while school was in session, with no signs being posted for months.” She described it as “… being trapped in a garage with solvents and chemicals you got at Home Depot.” Her colleague at La Habra, science instructor Misty Burt, shares her concerns: “Is it the dust [making us sick], is it the paint chips? We didn’t know, and no one could give us that answer.” Other teachers at Troy High School have also complained of lengthy respiratory illnesses and asthma, which was attributed to construction dust in the air near occupied classrooms. Tina Cherry, speaking for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, says: “Any time you have asbestos removed or disturbed, you have a air quality problem and a health problem.” Eighty-two faculty members at both school buildings have signed a petition demanding that the Fullerton School Board take action to protect both themselves and students from exposure to friable asbestos fibers, which are known to cause respiratory and pleural cancer.