Huntington Beach School Officials Worried About Asbestos Exposure

Posted on October 10, 2014 in Blog

Delays in a construction project may have resulted in students being on campus while asbestos was being mishandled.

Asbestos ExposureAt the end of last month, a member of the Ocean View School District’s board filed an official compliant with Cal/OSHA regarding possible asbestos exposure for students in several Huntington Beach schools. Specifically, the board member was concerned that asbestos ceiling tiles were “disturbed, moved, removed, and even missing” in several schools where modernization projects were ongoing.

According to the district superintendent, modernization projects were scheduled for 11 schools over the summer. The schools were to receive new fire alarms, new roofing, restroom updates, and accessibility updates. Because the schools were built in the 1960s, when asbestos was still in common use as an insulator in many building materials, most of the schools required asbestos removal and remediation as part of the modernization project.

Parents and board members were informed that the projects would be going on over the summer, but they were not told that at three of the schools, there was so much asbestos to remove that the project got behind schedule. Rather than being complete by the first day of school, the asbestos removal and modernization work at these schools was still going on even as students roamed the campus.

Given that asbestos dust has the potential to cause serious health effects if inhaled in large amounts or over a prolonged period of time, parents and school officials are understandably concerned about the safety of students on campus.

Asbestos removal work should be done under close professional supervision in a tightly sealed work environment. Air leaving the work zone should be filtered to capture all asbestos dust, and workers and bagged waste should be decontaminated before leaving the work zone. Generally speaking, so long as these precautions are taken it should be safe to use other parts of the property even while asbestos removal work is ongoing.

In this case, it is unclear what protocols the company charged with the asbestos removal and modernization efforts was using. Certainly if the school board member was able to access and view allegedly damaged asbestos-containing ceiling tiles, this is not a good sign.

Another troublesome sign is that the program management principal has been fired by the contractor. Officially the company claims this had nothing to do with the asbestos project, but the timing is suspicious.

Following the board member’s complaint, asbestos removal work has been halted at all the school campuses, though the modernization efforts will continue. Additional asbestos removal is expected to begin next summer.