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NC school evacuation, a reminder of the danger of asbestos

The recent evacuation of a high school in Gaston, North Carolina, provides another reminder that asbestos is still present in many buildings and still poses a significant health hazard. While no one appears to have ingested asbestos fibers during the incident, the reaction of school administrators shows the high level of caution necessary to protect against inhalation of the tiny white fibers that cause a fatal form of lung cancer.

A crew of workers was installing upgraded smoke alarm detectors in portion of Cherryville High School. The work required the installers to drill holes in the ceiling. A worker unexpectedly drilled into an asbestos-containing material. As soon as the workers realized what had happened, the work was halted, and students and teachers were sent home as a safety precaution.

Shortly afterward, Gaston County hired a firm to test the school's air to determine if any fibers had been released. The test results were negative, and the county fire marshal pronounced the air in the school safe to breathe. The fire marshal also noted that the holes that disclosed the presence of the asbestos would be covered.

Even though the mining of asbestos and the manufacture of asbestos-containing products is illegal in North Carolina, this incident shows that asbestos is still present in the environment, and that fatal asbestos exposure is still possible. The inhalation of asbestos fibers has been proved to cause mesothelioma, an especially lethal form of lung cancer. Persons who believe they may have been exposed to asbestos fibers should seek medical advice, and, perhaps, consult an attorney about a potential legal claim.

Source: Gaston Gazette, "Asbestos scare sends school staff home," Lauren Baheri, Aug. 21, 2014

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