A school district in the South Bay area of San Diego, California, has spent millions cleaning up asbestos, but one long-time district employee says that the deadly fiber remains a menace on a number of area campuses, prompting an investigation by local journalists and spurring one local government executive to launch his own inquiry. George Gerber has been a maintenance worker for the Sweetwater Union High School District for 17 years, and says that he is concerned that students and teachers are still being exposed to asbestos despite a major cleanup effort. He also says that the school district has ignored his concerns, ignoring reports of asbestos contamination that he has made for the last two years, telling a San Diego TV news team “There are areas and rooms that I’ve been reporting for extended period of time that’s almost gone on in 2 years that haven’t been addressed.” Local news coverage of Gerber’s allegations came to the attention of Frank Parra, vice-mayor of National City, which has three high schools which belong to the Sweetwater Union High School District.
Parra has asked district superintendent Dr. Jesus Gandara about the issues that Gerber has raised, writing in a letter to the superintendent “… it has been brought to our attention that public health concerns have been raised that relate to asbestos…” and asking that the district “…educate us on the mitigation efforts of the District as well as the School Asbestos Management Plan.” Since 2000, area voters have approved millions of dollars in school bonds, including $8 million for asbestos cleanup. The local news team investigating Gerber’s claim found that indeed, 17 area schools have asbestos contamination in varying quantities. Local activists are concerned that despite the asbestos hazard, when the bond issues were first passed, the first priority for the district appeared to be the construction of a new wing of the district administration building. One former member of the San Diego County Grand Jury, which investigated the district’s use of bond money, Bernadine Hoff, says that the jury found the district’s priorities to be troubling.
Even more troubling, Hoff says, is that the district failed to respond to criticisms of its handling of the funds. “They never responded,” she says. The school district maintains that there is no health risk to the students or staff, and has barred George Gerber from being on school property unless he is accompanied by another school employee. Local news media have pledged to stay on the story and to determine what, if anything, the district plans to do about the ongoing problem of asbestos contamination.