The members of the Lawrence Teachers Union in Lawrence, Massachusetts are concerned for the health and safety of staff, teachers, and students at the Bruce Elementary School and want the building shut down while contractors remove asbestos tiles from one wing of the school, which was closed after a fire in mid-November.
“If it breaks up, it causes cancer. That’s very concerning,” union leader Frank McLaughlin said Thursday in regards to the removal of some 5,000 asbestos-containing ceiling tiles at the school. “I’m uncomfortable having the teachers and students there while they’re removing asbestos in another wing. All of that is connected.”
The asbestos tile removal is the first step in the rebuilding of the wing, which originally housed about 230 students in sixth through eighth grade prior to the fire.
Those students were relocated to a different school after the blaze, but younger children occupy the other wing of the school, which was not damaged in the fire.
Those children returned to the building about a week after the fire along with faculty and staff.
Still, the union doesn’t think leaving those young students in place is a good idea once asbestos abatement begins, even though they’ve been at the school for the last few months.
There is concern on the part of union members that asbestos dust will make its way into the adjacent wing.
Union leader McLaughlin told the Eagle Tribune that current students should be relocated to other buildings while the asbestos is removed.
He also summoned the state Department of Public Health with requests to monitor the asbestos remediation and asked that they certify that both parts of the building are safe and the air is clear before anyone is permitted to return.
A spokesperson for school superintendent Jeff Riley responded to the union request with this statement:
“Everyone involved – Lawrence Public Schools, city officials, the Bruce community — shares the conviction that the health of students and staff comes before anything else,” said Chris Markuns. “The remediation process, which should be finalized over the next couple weeks, will be approved by and coordinated with the state Department of Public Health. We would only move forward with a process that Mass. DPH, contractors, and insurers agree prioritizes occupant safety.”
Glenn Gary, the supervisor of buildings for the city’s Department of Public Works noted that he was not concerned about asbestos exposure because he believes the proper precautions are being taken.
The ceiling tiles in question, however, will need to be broken to remove them, so the chance of asbestos dust being created is high. Nonetheless, Gary maintains that no one will be put in harm’s way.
“The way the building is designed, the wing is isolated from the rest of the building. Any other school or configuration would be more challenging,” Gary told the newspaper. “But in this one, I’m 100 percent confident that things are going to be fine.”
Such scenarios occur frequently in America’s schools, both public and private. Many aging schools were built during a time when asbestos use was commonplace.
As a result, asbestos-containing materials damaged by fires or simply worn due to the passage of time can become hazards for those who spend time inside.