High School Begins Cleanup After Asbestos Incident

REMOND, OR—Asbestos removal and containment procedures are being conducted at an Oregon high school, after a ball hit the gymnasium ceiling and disturbed some asbestos-containing building material last week.

During a physical education class on Friday, school officials say, a tennis ball hit the ceiling, which was covered with fire-retardant material. The material began to rain down, at which point the gym was immediately evacuated and sealed off, following protocol intended to protect students and employees from the hazardous fibers.

An asbestos-abatement company, as well as an environmental consulting company, were then brought in to assess the damage and begin clean-up efforts.

Workers wearing head-to-toe protective gear have been vacuuming the gym from top to bottom in order to remove any traces of the asbestos. Powerful vents were also employed to circulate filtered air.

School officials assure that students are not in danger from the asbestos leak. Said district spokeswoman Stephanie Curtis, “We’re pretty confident that there is no harm with the students having any exposure with it.”

Asbestos, which is a natural, fibrous mineral, is extremely resistant to heat, electricity, fire, salt water, and chemical changes. Since it is also lightweight and strong, and can be mixed with building materials such as concrete or woven into textiles, it is often employed as a construction or insulation material. Asbestos is safe when it is not disturbed, but when the fibers are disturbed they become airborne and can be breathed in. The tennis ball, school officials say, was hit hard enough to dislodge some of the asbestos material.

When inhaled, asbestos can cause serious health problems such as lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive form of cancer.

To remove the asbestos-containing materials from the school would require a complete overhaul of the building—and millions of dollars. Therefore, the school district is working to clean and contain all asbestos in its existing structures.

The gymnasium at Redmond High School is scheduled to reopen next week, after air-quality tests have been conducted to make sure that the environment at the school does not exceed acceptable levels of asbestos fibers.