School Officials “Didn’t Know” About Asbestos Risks

According to the high school principal in the small Colorado community of Broomfield, a northern suburb of Denver, the excuse that school officials “don’t know whether students were exposed” is “not acceptable or in line with district policy.” This was the statement Broomfield High School Principal Ginger Ramsey made in a letter sent to parents on Friday, 11 January, warning them that their children may have been exposed to asbestos between 6 November and 14 December of last year. It was on 6 November that maintenance workers tested a boiler to determine the cause behind an apparent malfunction.

The cause was found to be a faulty gasket–which was made of asbestos-containing materials. However, the school district maintenance department neglected to say anything to officials until two weeks later, when samples were sent to a local laboratory for testing. It was another three weeks before one-third of the samples taken at the building were found to contain asbestos levels as high as 121 fibers per square centimeter–well in excess of the “acceptable level” of 70 fibers/cm2 established by the Environmental Protection Agency. The school was immediately closed while workers from a Denver lab re-tested the building. By that time, there were “no measurable levels” of asbestos. Nonetheless, parents were understandably upset over the situation. Principal Ginger Ramsey had this to say: “I can’t say if they were exposed to asbestos… it is not possible to definitively state how long asbestos was in the air.” She then added, “I wouldn’t let my kids go back in there if they weren’t safe.”

There’s still the matter of just why the maintenance department waited three weeks to notify school authorities. “No one has an answer to that,” said Principal Ramsey. In the meantime, faculty and staff will now be required to attend training sessions in asbestos issues. The school building itself will continue to undergo periodic monitoring for asbestos. Briggs Gamblin, a spokesman for the Boulder Valley School District, said that while most of the parents were understanding of the situation, “…they want to make sure practices are being addressed to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”