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Asbestos Found in New York High School
The collapse of a hundred-foot section of an auditorium wall forced the cancellation of classes last week at Mount Vernon High School in Westchester County, New York. Officials with the Mount Vernon City School District ordered the school closed pending an investigation of the collapse, which revealed pipes, wires steel beams and asbestos insulation behind the fallen paneling. The collapse occurred after school hours; no students or staff members reported any injuries.
Building code inspectors arrived the next day to determine the cause of the collapse and estimate the severity of the damage. The investigators also conducted air quality tests to determine the level of asbestos contamination after the wall insulation came loose. The inspectors concluded that the collapse was the result of improper methods used to moor steel support beans to concrete blocks on the affected portion of the auditorium, but that the rest of the building did not show any signs of imminent collapse.
School district spokesperson Desiree Grand said that areas of the school that suffered structural damage, including the auditorium and several nearby classrooms and corridors, have been sealed off to prevent students and staff from exposed beams and wires. The school posted a report on its web site stating that air quality crews had conducted more than forty tests for the presence of asbestos, but that all of the samples tested negative for the dangerous dust.
Dr. Welton L. Sawyer, the school district superintendent, said that his district has had problems obtaining the much-needed funds to maintain many of the area schools. He stated that, outside of roofs that showed leaks during heavy rainstorms, none of the school’s buildings showed such structural issues. During previous inspections authorized by the state board of education, officials did not take note of any structural integrity problems with the high school.
The current location for Mount Vernon High School was constructed in 1963, when asbestos was a major component in construction materials such as wall insulation, ceiling tiles and fireproof sheets. The mineral’s lighter weight and resistance to high temperatures made it a highly desirable substance for construction projects from the 1930s until the early 1980s.
In recent decades, scientists have determined a link between exposure to asbestos and a higher incidence of lung disease and other respiratory disorders. The most severe disease linked to asbestos exposure is cancer of the pleural mesothelium, known most commonly as mesothelioma. The pleural mesothelium is the fluid membrane that protects the lungs. When asbestos fibers enter the lungs, they pass through the lung tissue and into the pleural mesothelium, affecting the sensitive cells and creating malignant tumors.
With the dual dangers of structural collapse and asbestos exposure, parents expressed their worries over potential safety issues at the school. School district officials have announced plans to allow parents to inspect the high school and learn more about the precautions in place to protect students. Dr. Sawyer addressed the parents’ concerns, stating that he would not reopen a school “that I felt was unsafe”.
UPDATE: Mount Vernon High School reopened for staff and faculty on 19
April and classes resumed on 20 April.
Sources: New York Times, WCBS-TV, LoHud.com