Reports show asbestos levels within limits

Reports show asbestos levels within limits

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Plans are still in motion for the demolition of two elementary schools in town, following environmental concerns about a potential cancer cluster at one of the sites.

Citing asbestos reports, John McNamee, finance director for the town and School Department, says a study conducted by Emery Environmental Associates shows acceptable levels of asbestos in materials at Stephen Olney and James L. McGuire Elementary.

A copy of the reports, obtained by The Breeze, shows levels that range from 2 percent chrysotile, or white asbestos in some areas, to 20 at Stephen Olney and McGuire.

In several areas of both schools, no signs of asbestos were detected, as noted in the study.

“The reports speak for themselves,” McNamee said.

“If there is a situation, they would note that in the report,” he said, adding that asbestos is only considered harmful if it is disturbed and becomes airborne.

According to a six-month “surveillance form” for both schools, types of asbestos and potential asbestos-containing materials have been studied since January.

Materials inspected included:

• Floor coverings (linoleums, tiles, etc.)

• Wall materials (panels, plasters, gypsum boards, etc.)

• Ceiling materials (suspended, plaster, etc.)

• Insulation materials (boilers, piping, etc.)

• Countertops

• Exterior overhang coverings

• And any other “suspect” building materials.

Classrooms, corridors, cafeterias, offices, storage closets, boiler rooms, gymnasiums and the janitor’s office were among the areas inspected, states the form.

McNamee explained that the tests, which are required by the Rhode Island Department of Health and Department of Education, are part of an analysis to identify potential hazardous materials in schools.

Schools are also tested for air quality levels, radon and lead in water and paint, he said.

Any hazardous materials will be eliminated, said McNamee, adding that the abatement process goes as far as examining caulking in windows to determine if there is any asbestos.

The remediation process for both sites begins today, Wednesday, July 5, McNamee said, and will likely take at least four weeks before any demolition work starts.

McGuire, along with Whelan Elementary in town, raised the most environmental concerns in the local teaching community after 20 teachers who taught at one or both of the schools in the past 10 years had been diagnosed with cancer, mostly breast and pancreatic cancer. Teachers told The Breeze they’re concerned that environmental factors at their places of work contributed to cancer cases.

An environmental report for Whelan could not be obtained by The Breeze as of press time.

McNamee explained that the air exchange system at the school was repaired and has been operating since last summer, a project that cost the School Department $80,000. “Fin tubes” in the system were also cleaned, he said.

McNamee said that wax and dust built up in those tubes over the years, and said, “if they’re not cleaned properly, when you start the heating system up in the fall, you get that smell.”

McNamee said under a new public safety program, a number of health and safety upgrades are planned for each school in town, with the exceptions of McGuire and Olney, which will be leveled before new schools are built on those sites.

Already underway, he said, is roof replacement work at both Whelan and Ricci Middle School. Air exchange repairs are also part of the district-wide plan to upgrade the buildings, he noted.