On October 9, Fulton High School in Moline, Illinois was closed.
The school would have been closed for Columbus Day anyway, but the unexpected two-day closure was the result of a staff member removing floor tiles from a section of the shop classroom's floor, in violation of every rule the U.S. Environmental Agency, or EPA, has outlined, either through AHERA (Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act) regulations or NESHAP (National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants) requirements relating to the Clean Air Act.
The first, AHERA, outlines a protocol for the safe management of asbestos-containing materials in U.S. schools, whether public, parochial or private. One facet of that protocol involves having a management plan in place, which is disseminated annually, or as needed, to keep school staff and parents apprised. The other mandates that school maintenance staff be trained in asbestos recognition. Another important feature demands that identified or potential asbestos-containing materials be removed by certified asbestos removal personnel only.
NESHAP identifies safe asbestos removal procedures, including wetting the material, disposing of it in appropriately marked containers, and making sure it reaches a landfill designated for hazardous waste. One of the most important features of NESHAP classifies materials by category, either Category I or Category II.
Resilient flooring is a Category I material. In fact, most resilient floors manufactured during the first 75 years of the last century contain some measure of asbestos. Only after 1989, when the EPA restricted asbestos in domestic material manufacture to one percent or less by volume, have resilient floors escaped being synonymous with asbestos.
The tile removal project also forced the suspension of the homecoming football game to Erie-Prophetstown, because players were unable to access the hallway that leads to the equipment room. The floor tiles were taken out of the building that way. As a result, Fulton High School is out of the playoffs, and a great many students are disappointed.
The only good news is that school district officials are working closely with the Illinois Department of Health to make sure no traces of asbestos linger to contaminate students and staff.
Ultrafine and virtually indestructible asbestos fibers can, when inhaled or ingested, lead to a number of diseases, most notably pleural mesothelioma. This particularly virulent cancer of the lining around the lungs typically lies dormant for from three to five decades, allowing the tumor to extensively invade vital tissues. By the time pleural mesothelioma is diagnosed, most patients are given less than 18 months to live.
Air quality tests conducted by a licensed asbestos contractor on Oct. 10 revealed no asbestos. The results were available late on Monday, Oct. 12, and students returned to school on Tuesday.
The shop classroom remains sealed off with plastic sheeting and plywood, and will not be used again until the tile is completely removed. The cost of hiring a licensed contractor to perform the removal is estimated at $10,000. School officials plan to complete the project either during the evening, when students and staff are absent, or over the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
No mention has been made about disciplining the school employee who removed the tiles in the first place, but presumably school officials will want to make the school's AHERA plan available on a wider and timelier basis.