Parents express concerns about asbestos exposure

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On the last day of spring break, Ivy Davis, like many kids, dreads going back to school.

But Ivy, a sixth grader at East Bank Middle School, said she's nervous for a very specific reason.

"When I get in there, I notice I can't breathe that well and I start coughing a lot where the dust has been stirred," said Ivy, who suffers from asthma.

She said ever since construction started at the junior high last fall, her wheezing has only gotten worse.

"It makes you frustrated," said Ivy's mother, Amanda Davis. "You send your child, not thinking they're going to be in harm's way, and this to me is harmful when you walk in and look around."

A renovation project costing nearly $6 million is underway at East Bank Middle School. Construction began in the fall of 2012, with the goal of installing a new heating and air conditioning system, according to Chuck Wilson, the facilities director for Kanawha County Schools.

Wilson said the school has lacked a functioning HVAC system for the past three to four years, and the current infrastructure dates back to the 1960s.

The renovation also includes updates to the ceilings, rooftops, ductwork, and floor tiling that required demolition in numerous parts of the building, according to Wilson.

"It's a work in progress," Wilson said. "But the ultimate outcome is going to be a really fresh, nice-looking school for the students and the community."

 

Several parents and teachers voiced their concerns about their students returning to school on Tuesday.

Inspectors discovered several areas within the school that tested positive for asbestos within the last six months, according to Wilson.

"It's not been done while any kids are in school and it's been glove-bagged, and we're really heavily regulated on how this occurs," he said.

Unless moved or disturbed, materials containing asbestos usually pose no threat. When spread in the atmosphere, asbestos exposure can possibly cause respiratory problems, lung cancer, or even mesothelioma.

Wilson explained that as recently as Monday, workers sent a sample from the boiler room to be tested for asbestos after they found an area that appeared suspicious. This is where asbestos has shown up most frequently since construction started.

He said he's confident the samples are negative, but the test takes 24 hours to process.

Wilson said he believes the air will pose no harm to students on Tuesday because teams certified to deal with asbestos have since cleared the problem areas. In addition to the regular staff and contractors, five extra custodians helped clean the hallways on Monday afternoon.

But with dry, warm weather expected for Tuesday, some parents said they want administrators to double and triple check for asbestos levels.

"It's in the air, it's not just going to go away over night," said Davis. "They should have shut down a few days before spring break, anything to make it more safe for the kids."

Wilson predicts construction to finish by August 2013. He said crews performed demolition at times when students were out of school, such as spring break and on the weekends.


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