Same portable classrooms used throughout county

A portable classroom was closed to students last week after it was found to contain the hazardous material asbestos.  It is unclear whether the asbestos is in the walls or the floors, but something prompted school officials to close the classroom. They  sealed the trailer,  closed the bottom with plastic and installed a hazardous material exhaust system. The signs were seen from the parking lot and were  clearly posted stating : DANGER Asbestos: Cancer and Lung Disease! .

On Monday, June 12,2000,  coincidentally one day after our article came out, Broward County had removed the signs, equipment and plastic. The trailer now looks as if nothing happened!  They moved quick enough after some inquiries were made by members of the media.

BEFORE Sunday June 11,2000

Notice plastic wrap at bottom, door open with ventilation system, and signage.

AFTER one day later, Monday June 12,2000Evidence removed? What problem? Possible Coverup?

The question now is: Why do we have portable classrooms with know hazardous materials in contact with our children, and who is responsible (irresponsible) for this?

Asbestos is a natural occurring mineral fiber that was used as a filler, and as an insulating material. It was banned from most building materials in 1986 by an act of congress based on studies of asbestos miners in Canada that showed it to be a toxic substance capable of causing lung cancer and lung disease.  As a result asbestos is no longer used as an ingredient of brake linings, paint products, vinyl floor tile, ceiling tiles and other materials.  The mineral is considered dangerous enough to  warrant  the need for specially licensed contractors to remove the product when found.

There are specific sections of the Florida State Statutes dealing with Asbestos Management (Click Here). The law is very clear when it comes to public buildings.  Florida State Statute 255.557(a) states that  written notice must be given to all building occupants and employees that there are friable asbestos-containing materials in the building. Such notice shall include a statement of the nature of the potential hazard and a warning against disturbing or damaging the asbestos-containing materials. The written notice shall identify the building asbestos contact person as the individual to be contacted for additional information or in the event of an emergency.  No such notice of any kind is currently posted, or has ever been given to any student or teacher that occupies the portables.  The Broward County School Board is not in compliance with this statute.  Even more disturbing is that Florida statute 235 states that all relocatables (another term for portables) used as classrooms must meet the public health and safety standards by July 1, 2001.  Why wait on this issue? The mere fact that hazardous materials are near any of our children is simply unacceptable and should be removed immediately!

Does the School Board know there is a toxic substance in the portables?
I am certain that the School Board officials are going to say that there is nothing to worry about as for the most part the portables are safe, and that asbestos is only a hazard when it gets into the air…….but are they really certain of that? A slight damage to the wall of a portable, invoked a serious enough hazardous materials response that leads me to believe that this is a serious problem. The school board must have known about this problem as  the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) of 1986, , required schools to develop a “management plan” to address how to manage their asbestos problem. This management plan is required to be available to all concerned persons such as faculty, staff, parents, or other interested parties. So they must have this plan, and it must be available for us to see.

It is important to note that the school boards are not required to follow the Florida Building Code like every one else, as they have there own less restrictive code. Even the Coral Springs Building and Fire Departments do not have jurisdiction over any school facility.  As a result, there is no way for us to make certain that there is no other materials within the schools that may contain asbestos.  The only way is to let our city inspectors into the schools. They do not have a conflict of interest.  Only the Charter School of Coal Springs located on University and Sample Road was supervised by our building and fire departments. It is certain that this hazard does not exist there!

The asbestos problem should be of a concern to each and every parent that is sending their children to the county schools.  The trailer shown in the picture is quite common and is used for portable classrooms at the elementary, middle school and high school.

This hazardous material being near any of our children is simply unacceptable and requires immediate attention.  Furthermore, the school board should answer to all those teachers, students and parents who have been exposed to this material during the last several years. These portables must be removed immediately from within our city boundaries and disposed of so that no one else can get affected.

On Monday we tried to contact the Principal of Taravella High School and the spokesmen for Broward County Schools. So far, we have not heard back from them.

There is an interesting Top Ten Questions about asbestos produced by the State of Oklahoma (click here) :  Another site is http://www.ehs.ttu.edu/asbestos.htm

Who is asleep at this watch?

April 14,2000 UPDATE

Sun Sentinel came out with a brief article in the Local Section of the newspaper of April 13,2000, indicating that they had spoken with school officials, and was advised that although the portable’s floor was slightly damages, no airborne asbestos fibers where found and that all was well.  It seems that the floor tiles contain asbestos.

Since the portable is locked up tighter than a can of tuna, it is unclear if all the asbestos containing products have been removed. After speaking with maintenance personnel of the county schools, it turns out that some of the portables in fact due contain contain vinyl asbestos tiles that have been covered up with carpeting, and others have the tile completely exposed, depending on when they were constructed.  It is quite normal for them to close down the portables and get a special contractor in to remove the tile.

The problem as we see it, is that since it is quite normal, how come no one knows about it and that they wait until they have a problem before they clean up the  mess?  Also, why did the school board move so quickly to remove all traces of the clean up after our story was published? All that remained on the temporary classroom was a note saying that the teachers normally in the portable have been moved to other classrooms.

Teachers that work in these portables should be wary of the situation. It seems that the only time the school board removes the asbestos is when someone notices the tiles are damaged. What about when they do not notice it?  It is quite clear from all the information that we have read, asbestos is no simple matter. According to the information,  individuals exposed to asbestos at all levels can take as much as 20 years until something shows up.

Parents should not accept anything less than the school board removing each and every portable containing asbestos prior to the start of the next school year.  They must comply with the state statute and inform every teacher, student and parent of which portable contains asbestos. Each individual should have the right to determine if they want to be exposed to asbestos at any level.



Author: HelpMeHoward