School Workers Exposed to Asbestos at Future Risk of Mesothelioma

By: Sally Clapper

Many schools built before 1980 were constructed with asbestos containing materials. Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was widely used in construction for insulation and fireproofing. Some common products used in schools that most likely contain asbestos are:
* Pipe and wall insulation * Insulation around boilers and water heaters * Wall paneling * Various plasters, wallboard and joint compounds * Floor and ceiling tiles * Roofing shingles and adhesives
Asbestos contains tiny, microscopic fibers that can cause serious illnesses, such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. Asbestos, when contained and in tact, does not pose a health hazard. However when asbestos is disturbed, it can become airborne and be inhaled. Once inhaled, carcinogenic fibers lodge in the body and cause serious and fatal illnesses.
Mesothelioma, the most serious disease, is a cancer that develops in the lining of the heart, abdomen or chest cavities years after first exposure. Mesothelioma can be very difficult to diagnose and treat because it can take decades from time of first exposure for symptoms to develop.
Occupationally, school custodial and maintenance employees are at a higher risk of contracting mesothelioma, which may not show signs until 10 to 40 years after first exposure. Repair, renovation and demolition activities to materials likely to contain asbestos all increase the risk of exposure.
Charles Street School in Palmyra, Philadelphia is one common example of this. First constructed in 1949, the school underwent major renovations over the past summer. Asbestos was discovered at the Charles Street School as well as two others after funding was assigned and therefore the additional costs were not included.
After renovations were underway, asbestos was discovered in the thin coating within the plaster walls at Charles Street School. However, because a lack of financial resources and time, a decision was made to paint the walls with a thick layer of paint, thereby encapsulating any asbestos. Measures like this prevent asbestos from becoming airborne until plans for further removal in the future can be made.
Charles Street School will stay on schedule for opening September 14 and a plan has been established that will notify workers in the event any repairs need to be done involving the walls to prevent any asbestos from becoming friable. Friable is a term referring to asbestos containing materials that, when dry, can be easily crumbled or reduced to dust by hand. Any material that contains more than 1% of asbestos and is friable must be regulated according to federal and state laws.
Despite wishes to be asbestos free, until time and funds are made available to make the school asbestos free, encapsulating the materials will ensure the safety of school staff and students. All contaminated areas have been cleared by certified asbestos specialists, air quality tests have come back negative, and all current employees have been offered free medical screenings. Such actions and measures should ensure the safety of all at the school until more removal can be performed next summer.

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Sally Clapper is a representative for Clapper, Patti, Schweizer & Mason, asbestos attorneys that have been representing people with mesothelioma for over 25 years. As experts in the field of mesothelioma, the firm's attorneys are recognized as some of the leading plaintiffs' mesothelioma lawyers in the nation.

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