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Product liability: asbestos alarm causes school closings

The discovery of asbestos during the course of a school modernization project has forced the governing school board to close the schools, while the extent of the hazard is investigated. Like the schools in question, many school buildings in North Carolina were constructed in an era where the use of asbestos-containing products was common. Once again, the discovery of asbestos in a building that is used every day provides a powerful reminder that asbestos is still a significant health hazard.

The two schools are located in Orange County, California. During the renovation project, crews discovered asbestos-containing products on pipes, valves and other parts of the schools' structural supports. These discoveries pushed back the proposed deadline for asbestos removal. When the schools opened to students, construction crews were still working in the buildings. Concerned parents and teachers alerted the school board and asked whether the children had been subjected to asbestos product exposure.

The school district established a protocol that required the contractors to remove all asbestos from the schools before school opened in the fall. The apparent violation of this protocol caused the school board to begin asbestos testing in every room of its 11 school buildings.

This case demonstrates the continuing presence of asbestos-containing products in the environment. More importantly, it serves as a reminder that asbestos is still a serious threat to the health of all persons, even school children. When asbestos fibers are ingested, most commonly by inhalation of airborne fibers, they lodge in the pleural lining of the lungs and cause a potentially lethal form of cancer, mesothelioma. Even though the hazards caused by asbestos have been well-documented and well-publicized, people sometimes assume that asbestos is no longer a problem. This case disproves that assumption.

Source: Orange County Register, "Two Huntington Beach elementary schools closed for asbestos testing," Daniel Langhorne, Oct. 6, 2014

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