October 8, 2011

asbestos news : City OKs Mount Asbestos Abatement

Miscommunication among contractors involved in a construction project at Des Moines’ McCombs Middle School led to harmful asbestos particles being released into the air, a district spokesman said. The incident happened Tuesday evening after students and school staff were out of the building, said Phil Roeder, the district’s spokesman. School resumes today after tests came back clean, the district announced late Thursday. Classes were called off for two days.

“There was an area in the library that was supposed to have been abated of asbestos over the Thanksgiving break, but due to some lack of communication by the contractor, they had workers who removed that ceiling in the library Tuesday night,” Roeder said. “When the school was opened on Wednesday morning, someone on staff noticed that the library ceiling was missing, and that raised a red flag.”

That prompted district officials to get people out of the building and ultimately cancel school on Wednesday. Thursday was the second straight day school was canceled at McCombs, located at 201 County Line Road.
Asbestos is a hazardous air pollutant used in building materials, paper products, plastics and other goods. Asbestos is still used in more than 3,000 products today, generally in the construction industry, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Its fibers, even in small amounts, can cause lung illnesses and cancer that sometimes show up several decades after someone inhales the material, according to the National Cancer Institute.

McCombs’ classes start at 7:40 a.m. Roeder said he could not say for certain how many students may have been in the building before school was supposed to start on Wednesday, but it was a small number. The vast majority of students were kept outside the building when they arrived for school on Wednesday. Roeder said Thursday that air samples would be taken along with all other necessary precautions before the building would be reopened.

McCombs is in the midst of various renovation and construction projects that include upgrades to the building’s mechanical systems. The $6.8 million project includes an eight-classroom addition and walls in open classroom areas.

The general contractor on the project is Larson and Larson Construction of Urbandale. Roeder said the district will seek reimbursement for any additional expenses incurred because of the asbestos mishap. “We do expect that the contractor will make the district whole on this matter,” he said. Roeder said asbestos has not been improperly disturbed at any other point during renovations and construction at the building, nor was he aware of similar incidents at other schools where work is being done.

District officials are also trying to determine when make up days would need to be scheduled. Melissa Spencer, president of the Des Moines Education Association, a union that represents teachers and other district employees, said the group thinks district administrators have dealt with the situation effectively.
“We’ve been happy with the way the district has handled this situation,” she said. “They let us know right away and they got the staff and students — the few that were there — out.”