Even highly affluent communities such as Aspen, Colorado, are not immune. There have been many stories about asbestos problems in our nation’s schools here at Asbestos.net, sometimes as many as three a week. Most of these schools have been in impoverished inner cities and rural towns, or working and middle-class communities. The Aspen School Board knew that asbestos would have to be removed from the town’s 30-year-old middle school. However, at the time the budget was made for the abatement project, vermiculite–which was used extensively for insulating the building from the frigid Rocky Mountain winters–was not considered. Vermiculite was a popular building material as late as the 1980s. By itself, vermiculite is a harmless form of clay. However, most of the vermiculite sold in the U.S. came from Libby, Montana–the site of the most notorious asbestos operation in the world.
Because the vermiculite was located near the asbestos mines, much of it was contaminated. Nonetheless, vermiculite was not legally considered an asbestos hazard–until recently. Largely due to the events and legal actions surrounding Libby, Montana, the federal government, in a refreshing show of concern for the lives of average citizens, has declared that vermiculite in fact does constitute an asbestos-related health hazard. New federal rules have added vermiculite to the list of hazardous substances that must be removed from structures by specially trained and licensed personnel.
The bottom line: the cost to the Aspen School District for asbestos removal will run over $927,000–nearly $1 million more than the district was prepared to spend. School board member Ernie Fyrwald was quoted as saying, “It makes me sick.” The original plans called for building a new school in an “L”-shape around the old building, which was then to be torn down. However, the new rules and resulting increased costs have delayed the completion of the new school, while the old one has been left standing–possibly until next summer. Meanwhile, the Aspen School District has other commitments that citizens who voted in favor of the bond levy in 2005 are expecting to see finished. One possible source of additional funding under consideration is the assessment of a “land dedication fee” on developers.