Asbestos is a mineral that was used in construction materials for decades – even until the late 1970s. Once encapsulated asbestos materials are installed, they generally don’t pose a health hazard unless disturbed or deteriorating. Crumbling or broken asbestos materials create the opportunity for asbestos fibers to become airborne. Inhalation of asbestos fibers can lead to asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
The deteriorating condition of some decades-old asbestos materials can require abatement. The inspection, management and abatement of in-place asbestos in public schools is governed, in part, by the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA). Under AHERA, removal of in-place asbestos materials is not usually necessary unless the material is severely damaged or will be disturbed by a building demolition or renovation project.
Personnel working on asbestos activities in schools must be trained and accredited in accordance with the The Asbestos Model Accreditation Plan. Additionally, if removal of asbestos is warranted as part of a renovation or demolition project, the district work must comply with Asbestos National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). Finally, asbestos abatement work is also regulated by the state of Texas.
Proper abatement procedures include plastic barriers, negative air pressure, personal protective equipment, and other extensive safety measures. That makes summer the best time for asbestos abatement in schools when there are no students. The Dallas Independent School District (DISD) is taking advantage of this window of time and renovating 50 campuses across the district – and some, mainly those built before 1970, are in need of asbestos abatement.
Ben DuBose, attorney and founder of DuBose Law Firm, with decades of experience representing asbestos victims, agrees that asbestos abatement may be needed in certain circumstances. “The debate of leaving asbestos in place rather than abating it is a decades old discussion. However, after many years, some in-place asbestos materials may begin to deteriorate and thus become a health hazard. This WFAA story provides an excellent summary of some safety precautions taken with proper asbestos abatement procedures.”
Elizabeth Ponce, the general contractor for the demolition projects, advised WFAA that when removing asbestos materials, all contaminated areas are blocked off with heavy-duty materials. Ms. Ponce advised that all vents and other potential openings for fiber migration are covered to prevent exposure. Since workers come and go from the abatement worksite, a three-stage decontamination zone is constructed leaving a minimal chance that any stray asbestos fibers leave the contamination work zone. Ponce reiterated in her interview with WFAA that extra precautionary measures are always taken when working with asbestos.
School abatement projects such as the one undertaken by DISD almost always occur during summer or winter vacation when the school is empty. As Ponce stated, “in order for us to make your classrooms better, we have to be in there trying to take care of everything when the students aren’t there.”