Just When It Couldn’t Get Any Worse…

It’s well known that the Roman Catholic Church has faced a great deal of litigation over issues which have nothing to do with asbestos, but have nonetheless cost the Vatican hundreds of millions of dollars. Now, that asbestos issue has reared its head in the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, as asbestos as been discovered in a Rutherford parochial high school. The ceiling in a locker room at St. Mary’s High School was recently discovered to contain asbestos. In addition, a steam pipe, located in the cafeteria, that was repaired last year may have traces of asbestos insulation remaining on it as well. Specially equipped maintenance workers trained in asbestos abatement had thoroughly scrubbed the asbestos-wrapped pipe after it had sprung a leak in November, 2006. Despite the thoroughness of the job, an EPA inspector who examined the pipe on 29 August thought that traces of the asbestos insulation remained on the pipe and ordered it re scrubbed. Chunks of asbestos insulation in the ceiling above the wrestling team’s locker room were also discovered during the EPA inspection. This may have resulted from the replacement of floor tiles in the bathroom on the floor above, or as a consequence of steam pipes being serviced or replaced. Although not friable, there was always a risk that an accident causing the release of asbestos fibers could occur.

According to James Goodness, Communications Director for the archdiocese, the school’s administration was unaware of any problems after last November. “We felt that we had done all we needed to do,” he said. Nonetheless, Goodness assured the community that any loose, potentially friable pieces of asbestos would be removed according to state and federal regulations. Following the inspection, the school was cited by the EPA for failure to have an established asbestos management plan, nor had all members of the maintenance staff been trained in asbestos abatement procedure. Goodness says that these issues have been addressed. St. Mary’s High School was constructed in the early 1930s when the use of asbestos insulation was common, and has undergone renovation work since. The EPA investigation last week was triggered by complaints of asbestos in the building, which had been made to the local Department of Health and Senior Services earlier. Traces of asbestos debris have caused concern on the part of parents and faculty alike.