Sussex Elementary School is closed because of asbestos fibers

January 25, 1992|By Patrick Gilbert

Sussex Elementary in Essex was closed yesterday because tests found high levels of asbestos fibers in the air, and word is expected Monday on whether the school will have to be closed indefinitely for asbestos removal.

Baltimore County school officials decided to close the school yesterday and Monday after routine monitoring tests done at the school Thursday night found higher-than-acceptable levels of asbestos fibers.

Exposure to high concentration of asbestos fibers can lead to asbestosis, a scarring of the lung tissue, and also has been linked to cancer.

The closing went smoothly, according to school officials and a PTA representative.

"We spent today testing the whole building to verify the readings we received Thursday night," said Keith D. Kelley, assistant superintendent for facilities. "Those test samples are still at the laboratory."

Richard L. Barranger, assistant superintendent for the southeast area, said because verification results probably won't be known until today or tomorrow, "We are going to keep the school closed Monday because of our concern for the safety of the children and staff."

The school, located in the 500 block of S. Woodward Drive, has 515 students and a staff of 27.

Mr. Barranger said school officials will arrange a meeting with parents as soon as possible to "alleviate any fears and answer any questions they may have. We are going to be honest and up front with them through this situation."

A letter will be sent to parents Monday explaining the situation, he said. School officials already have contacted other schools in the area about possible space to house the students from Sussex should the school be closed for longer than Monday, Mr. Barranger said.

This is the first time in at least five or six years that a school has been ordered closed during the school system's asbestos testing program, said Mr. Barranger. School buildings are tested every two years with follow-up tests done at six-month intervals.

It was a follow-up test at Sussex that found high levels of asbestos fibers. Testers observed loose ceiling tiles in three areas of the school and visual inspection found what was considered to be loose asbestos fibers, Mr. Barranger said.

Immediate air samples taken in the school's lobby, principal's office and a kindergarten classroom produced the high readings. School officials announced on radio and TV stations early yesterday that the school was being closed due to mechanical problems.

"It was decided to announce the closing as a mechanical problem so as not to start a panic and to give the school's administration a chance to explain the situation to the PTA president and parents," Mr. Barranger said. Robert G. Sutton, Sussex's principal, said most of the parents got the word to stay home. "I went out at my usual greeting place in front of the school to inform those who hadn't heard," Mr. Sutton said.

"There weren't that many, and the ones I talked to took the news very well."

Karen Maddox, Sussex's PTA president, said the day went smoothly. She praised Mr. Sutton for quickly getting her information to pass on to parents.

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