Asbestos tests at Meyers High in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania recently came back negative, according to Raymond Wendolowski, the school board’s solicitor.
The tests were conducted on the ceiling plaster of the school’s auditorium, which was reopened following the negative test results, after plaster pieces fell from the ceiling onto seating earlier this year. School officials and representatives from the Apollo Group, Inc. construction company and a third-party engineer inspected the problems and determined it would be necessary to close the auditorium until further inspection.
The district then called for a test of the plaster, which to the relief of school officials and the community came back negative. There was discussion that the school’s annual Martin Luther King Debate Contest be moved to another location, but this proved unnecessary. The debate event typically draws about 400 people.
Federal Regulations in Place to Protect against Asbestos Exposure in Schools
The federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) includes regulations requiring public and non-profit schools to be inspected every three years for asbestos. Schools are also required to develop, keep updated, and make available to the public an Asbestos Management Plan.
Wendolowski confirmed the school district received requests for “Asbestos Management Plans” from the Save Our Schools Group, an organization formed to fight a high school consolidation proposal.
It was noted that the school did not readily fulfill Asbestos Management Plan requests, but Wendolowski explained the district recently changed inspection companies. He further stated the plans were ready, follow the appropriate federal guidelines, and would be available within five days.
Asbestos Poses a Limited Threat
Asbestos can be extremely hazardous, but most experts agree it is safe when encapsulated or non-friable, which means it cannot be crushed into powder by hand. This is why the removal process is so highly regulated – movement of asbestos can cause the fibers to become airborne, making them far more dangerous than if they are left alone.
When airborne, asbestos fibers can be inhaled or swallowed, causing them to potentially lodge inside the body. Exposure to asbestos is linked to a significantly increased risk for developing mesothelioma, a rare but deadly form of cancer that has less than a 10% survival rate.
Though it was once an extremely popular material to be used in building and construction projects, asbestos is now banned in the United State in a number of commercial building products, including flooring felt, rollboard, and corrugated, commercial, or specialty paper. Additionally, the use of asbestos in products that have not historically contained asbestos, otherwise referred to as “new uses” of asbestos, are also banned.
Asbestos an Ongoing Issue in the Wilkes-Barre District
This is not the first incident concerning asbestos in the Wilkes-Barre school district. Recently, the renovation of the former Mackin School resulted in the removal of old blackboards that were covering asbestos. The work created more than $50,000 in additional costs for repair. Removal of asbestos in the school’s auditorium created more than $16,000 in additional costs, on top of the more than $460,000 plus asbestos abatement contract already in place.