Asbestos discovery closes New York elementary school, displaces students

20 Aug 2013 by under Events, News

Calvin Coolidge school 100x100 Asbestos discovery closes New York elementary school, displaces studentsIt is estimated that more than 200 people were exposed to asbestos at Calvin Coolidge Elementary School in Binghamton, N.Y., this summer. Students and administrators were in the building regularly for summer school programs until the presence of asbestos was confirmed Aug. 7. Tests revealed unsafe levels of asbestos in the air.

Inspectors discovered what they thought was asbestos in a basement crawl space July 19 during a routine asbestos inspection. The substance was confirmed as asbestos by a laboratory on July 20, and air samples came back at unsafe levels Aug. 7. Records indicate first floor air samples at Calvin Coolidge measured 96.97 structures per square millimeter, while the second floor measured 87.87, both substantially greater than the 70 structures per square millimeter deemed “safe” by federal law.

Calvin Coolidge was built in 1950. Like many buildings of the time, asbestos was used as insulation and a fire retardant. The school had undergone previous asbestos inspection and asbestos abatement procedures in August 2011. Following that project, Atlantic Testing Laboratories, Ltd., showed no asbestos present in the crawl space.

School officials have conducted proper required inspections since the 2011 project, which are required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (). The requires visual inspection of school buildings every six months and a thorough review every three years. However, records indicate the crawl space was not included in 2012 inspections, with workers noting they could not access the space.

School district officials say they did not close the school until the air tests came back as unsafe because they were not sure what they were dealing with until that time. They assure parents and others who were working in the building in the timeframe in question that there is no cause for alarm.

But Greg Siwinski, an industrial hygienist who specialized in cases involving exposure to hazardous materials, told, “There are those who believe that there is no safe level for a carcinogen like asbestos, and there are others that say there are safe levels. It’s my perspective that zero is the goal, especially in schools.” Swiniski currently works for the Occupational Health Clinical Center at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.

Asbestos exposure is linked to the development of asbestos-related diseases including asbestosis, a severe scarring of the lungs, and , a deadly cancer. Mesothelioma most often attacks the lining of the lungs or the abdomen, and rarely the lining of the heart. There is no known cure for mesothelioma.

Cleanup work has begun on the building with the approval of the state Department of Labor. School is scheduled to resume in September, leaving school officials scrambling to determine where to house the displaced students when the bells ring this fall.

Fox 40 WICZ

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