Asbestos School–Again

When you consider what public school teachers in the U.S. are expected to tolerate, it’s small wonder that over half of them leave the profession within five years. As if low pay, overcrowded classrooms, undisciplined students, and a system that sometimes seems designed to discourage rather than motivate were not enough, there’s also the risk of asbestos poisoning.

In fact, elementary school teachers are among those considered at highest risk for asbestos disease.

On these web pages, we have all too frequently reported on asbestos dangers at public and parochial schools across the nation. Recently, there were reports of yet another school at which teachers and students have been at risk for asbestos exposure–this time, in the San Francisco Bay Area community of San Mateo.

It began last summer when a speech therapist noticed the odd appearance of the exposed ceiling pipes in her new classroom, which were described as “kind of bumpy and old despite a fresh coat of paint.”

It seems that the private corporation to which the federal government outsourced the inspection–HB&T Environmental–missed those particular pipes when they gave the building a passing grade back in 2005.

This past autumn, the speech therapist, Victoria DeLuca, asked the building principal to have the exposed pipe tested. On 5 October, a school district maintenance worker, wearing no protective gear, removed a sample by snapping it off while DeLuca was in the classroom–potentially exposing her to friable asbestos fibers.

The school district then hired the same company that had done the initial 2005 inspection to test the material–a clear conflict of interest, according to federal guidelines. The test results came back positive for asbestos, but school administrators failed to inform DeLuca until 11 days later.

DeLuca then had her own tests done. She wiped a damp rag over some of the shelves and equipment that always had a layer of dust on them, despite her constant cleaning efforts. Paying $500 out of her own pocket, she had the rag tested.

A test result of 10,000 asbestos fibers per square centimeter raises a red flag. An asbestos fiber concentration of 100,000 fibers per square centimeter constitutes a health hazard.

DeLuca’s sample showed 610,000 asbestos fibers per square centimeter.

School district officials consider that the matter calls for “immediate discussion.” Meanwhile, DeLuca, who now must live with the specter of asbestos disease over her for the rest of her life, has filed as complaint with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The matter is now under federal investigation.