Asbestos Remains in Suffolk, Virginia Beach Schools
Asbestos, banned by the U.S. federal government for nearly every industrial and construction purpose since the late 1970s, keeps turning up in, of all places, schools. The latest report of this dangerous situation to catch my attention appeared in the Suffolk News-Herald just after Thanksgiving.
According to the story, nine elementary and middle schools in Suffolk, Virginia (VA), contain asbestos despite a well-articulated long-term removal plan and a biannual removal budget of $75,000. As the article explains, the funds set aside to get asbestos out of the schools are generally not used for that purpose because school maintenance officials consider the asbestos safe where it is.
A similar situation exists in Virginia Beach, where, as WAVY-TV 10 reported in August 2010, seven schools present asbestos risks for students, teachers and staff.
The affected -- infected, is probably a better word -- schools in Virginia Beach are Bayside Middle, Plaza Middle, John B. Dey Elementary, Old Donation Center, Lynnhaven Middle, Great Neck Middle and Malibu Elementary.
In Suffolk, the schools identified as having asbestos pipe insulation, asbestos floor tiles and other building materials containing asbestos are Driver Elementary, Elephant's Fork Elementary, Florence Bowser Elementary, Kilby Shores Elementary, Nansemond Parkway Elementary, Southwestern Elementary, Forest Glen Middle, John F. Kennedy Middle and John Yeates Middle.
As a Virginia Beach, VA-based personal injury attorney who has represented many victims of asbestos-related lung disease such as cancer and mesothelioma, I know that the only safe level of exposure to asbestos is zero exposure. Our firm has helped manly railroad workers and family members who have contracted cancers.
I also know that justifying inaction on asbestos removal with the explanation that "it's not a problem if you just leave it alone" is unacceptable. What is remarkably dangerous about airborne asbestos, even at microscopic levels, is that even fleeting exposures can caused cancer 10-50 years later.
Asbestos dust -- meaning asbestos fibers that will never leave a person's body once they get breathed in -- simply has a way of getting into the air regardless of anything done to contain the dust. In Virginia Beach, for instance, teachers and maintenance workers have been advised not to drive nails into walls lest asbestos from a paint coating go airborne. At the Surry nuclear power plant in Virginia, repairs kicked up asbestos when contractors cut through an old pipe. In Kansas City, Missouri (MO), an old courthouse was found to have piles of asbestos dust from insulation around heating and air conditioning vents.
The medical literature has long shown that toxic airborne asbestos causes terminal lung cancer, colon cancer and other cancers, as well as mesothelioma. And with asbestos being the only definitely known cause of mesothelioma, that particular fatal disease is wholly preventable by not having exposure to asbestos.
The schools in Suffolk, Virginia Beach and other city need to remove all asbestos as soon as feasible. Protecting children and public servants demands nothing less than immediate action.