What’s asbestos and why is it so perilous?
The New Jersey Office of Public Employees’ Occupational Safety and Health is threatening to fine the district and accusing officials of failing to provide school janitors with training and information on asbestos, according to a letter dated Oct .11.
In a Sept. 10 letter, Epic Environmental of Newfield, Gloucester County, told school officials that asbestos debris was learned in the high school roof, and that debris could enter the school and “cause safety hazards and air quality issues.” Epic recommended that rooftop construction stop until a remedy was found. The company also advised officials to keep affected parts of the school unoccupied while rooftop construction was ongoing.
The school district is now facing pressure from parents, many of whom are furious that the senior high school remained open for classes while asbestos remained on the school property.
Most recently, woodchips in the annex playground at the high school were also found to be contaminated. The woodchips contain a type of asbestos called Chrysotile, according to an Oct. 30 report from TTI Environmental of Moorestown, Burlington County.
Chrysotile is a common type of asbestos that is linked to cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Asbestos was used in the past to insulate buildings and make roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, as well as other products, according to the cancer society.
Breathing in asbestos causes scarring in the lungs and exposure can lead to asbestos-related cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. Why is asbestos so perilous? Watch the video above and find out.
As a result of the contamination, the playground has been closed to students since the first week of October, Interim Superintendent Maryann Banks said.
Related: How raining roof screws closed Pinelands Regional
Related: Pinelands Regional HS shut for ‘indefinite period of time’
Other problems have plagued the school since the roof project started.
In early October, officials closed Pinelands Regional High School after a long ceiling screw fell onto a student below.
“When they were redoing the roofing project, they sheered off the tops of the screws from the ancient roofing,” Banks, the interim superintendent, said earlier this month in an interview with a reporter. “What has happened is they (the screws) started to fall through.”
Banks could not immediately be reached on Tuesday for comment.
The school was also closed for air quality issues after students complained of strong odors related to the ongoing roofing project.
Pinelands Regional Junior High School. Webart. (Photo: Amanda Oglesby)
District officials have since went the high school classes into the nearby junior high school, and students in both buildings are operating on a half-day, split-shift schedule.
On Monday, parents berated school officials with mad comments and criticisms over the choice to keep the school open in September.
“Hindsight is 20/20, but at the time with the information we had we made the best choice we could,” Business Administrator Stephen Brennan told the audience on Monday.
Brennan said the school was opened Sept. 7 based on an August report from Epic Environmental that determined the school was asbestos-free.
As of Monday, Banks said about 85 percent of the loose screws had been removed from the school’s ceilings.
Mike Kobithen Roofing & Insulation of Churchville, Pennsylvania, was awarded more than $5 million to replace the high school’s roof.
Brennan, the business administrator, said Monday the school was in contact with lawyers about who will pay for the extra expenses that have arisen during the project.
“Ideally, what I want to do is back charge the contractor for that, whatever the cost may be, not only for the area of the playground but the area around the entire building,” he said.
To avoid fines from the state Office of Public Employees’ Occupational Safety and Health, Pinelands Regional must show proof by Nov. 30 that it provided janitors and custodians with an asbestos awareness course, locations of asbestos-containing material on school property, and instruction on how to respond to asbestos fiber releases. The district must also show proof of having a written hazard communication plot with training, warning procedures and safety information.
The interim superintendent told the parents on Monday that she hopes the roof project will be finished within a few weeks and that students will return to their normal schedule in their own buildings by mid-November or early December.
Because the school has already closed for five days this school year, district officials are considering cutting spring break small. The Board of Education will consider opening the school on April 5 and 6, the last two days of spring break, and on Feb. 15, 16 and 19, Banks said.
“We haven’t even had winter yet and snow days,” Banks said.
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Amanda Oglesby: @OglesbyAPP; 732-557-5701; firstname.lastname@example.org
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