Last month, regular readers of this column learned of an “asbestos school” in Broomfield, Colorado (one of the many on which we report here). The short story is that students, faculties and maintenance workers may have suffered asbestos exposure last fall when a gasket in one of the building’s boilers malfunctioned, causing asbestos fibers to be released into the air. Over 30 percent of the air samples tested were found to contain “unacceptably high” levels of asbestos fibers. Despite this, the school’s maintenance department waited three weeks before informing anyone of the situation, which principal Ginger Ramsey declared to be “unacceptable.”
The school was closed for a day and a half–a month after the boiler incident. So far, the Broomfield School District has gotten off rather easily. Since December 2007, the bill for asbestos abatement and air testing has totaled a mere $10,695. Compared to what asbestos abatement and air tests usually cost, this has been a small price to pay. In addition, 19 staff members have been given workman’s compensation referrals. These staff members include maintenance workers and administrative staff who were in the boiler room in question and who may have been exposed to potentially harmful levels of asbestos between 6 November and mid-December.
It is reported that the referrals were made as a “precautionary measure” that enables doctors to “include the possibility of asbestos exposure” while providing care for these people in the future. The problem is that asbestos diseases have a latency period of several years–even decades. It may be as long as 50 years before diseases such as mesothelioma begin to manifest symptoms any of those who were exposed. For students, that means that some may start suffering from symptoms anywhere between age 35 and 70. Although Principal Ramsey assured parents that she “wouldn’t let my kids go back in [the school building] if it weren’t safe,” the fact is that nobody involved has any way of knowing for certain how many children–if any–suffered from asbestos exposure.