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Asbestos in elementary schools spawns new kind of damage claim

Most persons seeking damages for exposure to airborne asbestos are well past middle age because the time period between initial exposure and the appearance of active symptoms typically is measured in decades. Now, several claims seeking damages on behalf of children have been filed against a school district by parents of students in three elementary schools where asbestos-containing products were discovered during renovation projects. Although no similar cases are known to exist in North Carolina, these cases may herald the opening of a new front in the long-running asbestos dispute.

The three schools, all located in Huntington Beach, California, were closed in October after asbestos fibers were discovered in the course of several renovation projects. The contractors were charged with failing to protect students from exposure to the asbestos. The asbestos clean-up project required that more than 1,600 children to be bused to eight schools in four different school districts.

The parents of several of those children have filed initial claims against the school district claiming that the students inhaled "dangerous quantities of toxic asbestos fibers" before the schools were closed. The claims cite the negligence of both the school district officials and the renovation contractors. The claims are the first step in a series of actions that may result in litigation. When the schools were built several decades ago, asbestos was commonly used as an insulation and fireproofing material. As the asbestos-containing materials aged, they released asbestos fibers into the air. The extent of the children's asbestos product exposure is currently unknown, but the issue is certain to be hotly contested.

North Carolina has many school buildings that were built before the hazards of asbestos became known. Are children in these buildings at risk? The California cases may stimulate similar cases in North Carolina.

Source: Huntington Beach Independent, "Families seek damages over 'dangerous' asbestos at 3 closed Ocean View schools," Nicole Knight Shine, Jan. 21, 2015

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