Custodians

Summary

Custodians are often required to undertake a variety of tasks, some of which involve coming into contact with asbestos. Routine activities include checking insulation around pipes and boilers or drilling into flooring and ceilings, all of which may contain fibers of asbestos if the building in question was built before the 1970s.

Custodians Roles and Responsibilities

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fiber with high resistance to heat and electricity, which made it an excellent and affordable component to use in the construction industry.

When buildings were in their skeletal stages, asbestos was mixed into floors, ceilings and walls to strengthen or protect against fire, and around pipes and boilers to insulate. Many schools were constructed in this same way until the dangers of asbestos were realized in the 1970s.

MJN Brief

Asbestos in schools is not a huge concern until it comes to renovating or maintenance. Asbestos fibers are not dangerous until they become airborne, but when routine maintenance is required on boilers, pipes, flooring or ceiling tiles, the custodians who come into contact with it could be at risk.

Custodians were often required to hammer or drill various walls, work with air conditioning systems and remove or replace the insulation material around pipes, so there was a chance that they may come into contact with asbestos. If they were working on something that required them to move or disturb the asbestos, the risk of the fibers becoming inhaled is greater.

Today, custodians coming into contact with asbestos would be advised to wear a fitted face mask and overalls to minimize the number of particles they may come into contact with and avoid spreading them into other common areas.

Custodians and Asbestos Exposure

Custodians could have been exposed to asbestos when carrying out routine repairs. If there were issues with a boiler, a custodian might have to remove the asbestos lining to take a closer look. If there were having trouble with pipes, they would also have to unpack the pipes to examine the damage.  Once the fibers are moved or disturbed, they can become airborne and puncture the lining of the lungs.

Studies on Custodians and Asbestos Exposure Levels

A technical report conducted by the Missouri Department of Health determined that custodians who undertook routine activities in buildings containing asbestos materials were not exposed to the levels of airborne asbestos that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) deemed dangerous.

The samples were collected from 8 custodians from 6 selected schools. The study showed that the levels of asbestos were well below the OSHA action level at these particular sites, but because the research pool is so low there is not enough data to support the findings on a broader scale.

Custodians in different states, areas and schools may have come into more contact than others, depending on the type of work they were required to do.

MJN Brief

Another study published in 1991 looked at 660 custodians employed by the New York City Board of Education. It found that 27% of the men examined showed asbestos-related scarring in the chest tissue, but 89% of those surveyed admitted that they have been present in the work area during asbestos-related projects.

This suggests that not all custodians would have been at risk of developing mesothelioma and that the s-shaped chrysotile fibers most commonly used in these environments are less harmful than other occupations where crocidolite asbestos (with its needle-like fibers) was used.

Custodians and Mesothelioma

Asbestos fibers are incredibly dangerous if they manage to pierce the pleural lining of the lungs. Once this happens, they cause DNA to mutate and produce abnormal cells, which can spread to other organs.

Custodians are at much lower risk of developing mesothelioma than many other professions—such as shipyard workers, plumbers and chemical technicians—who were exposed to a large quantity of asbestos daily. However, there is still a risk for custodians who came into contact with asbestos at some point during their careers.

Countless buildings across the U.S. contain asbestos today, as they were constructed before the ban imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, so it’s essential for custodians to be wary of this as they go about their job.

Face masks and protective clothing must be worn if a custodian knows that they will be coming into contact with an asbestos-containing area. Asbestos fibers can cling to clothing, shoes and hair, which can then be transferred to other areas of the school and potentially harm both students and teachers. To avoid this, it’s essential to take all the necessary precautions outlined by OSHA.

Compensation for Custodians

Asbestos-exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma. If you have recently been diagnosed or fear you may be developing this aggressive disease, it is essential that you seek legal action from a lawyer specialized in mesothelioma law.

An experienced mesothelioma attorney will help examine your work history and build a case to help you obtain compensation. For more information on asbestos exposure in custodians, contact our Justice Support Team today.

View Author and Sources
Sources
  1. Exposure of Custodian Employees to Airborne Asbestos. Retrieved from: https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyNET.exe/9101UKTP.txt?ZyActionD=ZyDocument&Client=EPA&Index=1991%20Thru%201994&Docs=&Query=&Time=&EndTime=&SearchMethod=1&TocRestrict=n&Toc=&TocEntry=&QField=&QFieldYear=&QFieldMonth=&QFieldDay=&UseQField=&IntQFieldOp=0&ExtQFieldOp=0&XmlQuery=&File=D%3A%5CZYFILES%5CINDEX%20DATA%5C91THRU94%5CTXT%5C00000031%5C9101UKTP.txt&User=ANONYMOUS&Password=anonymous&SortMethod=h%7C-&MaximumDocuments=1&FuzzyDegree=0&ImageQuality=r75g8/r75g8/x150y150g16/i425&Display=hpfr&DefSeekPage=x&SearchBack=ZyActionL&Back=ZyActionS&BackDesc=Results%20page&MaximumPages=1&ZyEntry=3. Accessed April 14, 2018.
  2. Radiological abnormalities and asbestos exposure among custodians of the New York City Board of Education. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1809167. Accessed April 14, 2018
  3. High Asbestos Exposure Seen in School Custodians. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/1990/05/06/nyregion/high-asbestos-exposure-seen-in-school-custodians.html. Accessed April 14, 2018.

Last modified: April 27, 2018