Students are doing the asbestos shuffle

February 05, 1992|By Meredith Schlow

Sussex Elementary students who were moved to temporary quarters at an Essex church because their school is contaminated with asbestos will have to move again because the church also contains harmful asbestos fibers.

A visual inspection of Essex United Methodist Church, where 140 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students started attending classes Monday, revealed crumbling asbestos in the upper walls and ceiling tiles of halls and classrooms.

Parents were notified Monday night and yesterday morning that pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes will be postponed until Baltimore County officials find a school with room for the students.

Richard L. Barranger, assistant superintendent for the southeast area, spent yesterday touring various locations with Sussex teachers and the president of the PTA in search of a solution.

Teachers are expected to decide today between Sandalwood Elementary, the Rosedale Center and Battle Grove Elementary, which already is housing about 100 Sussex students. It's likely, Mr. Barranger said, that the classes will be split between two locations.

"The teachers are asked to think about it overnight," he said. "We want them to make the decision, and we want them to feel comfortable with it."

The county hopes to have students relocated by the end of this week or early next week.

The news of a new asbestos problem left parents again concerned about their children's health and the amount of school they have been missing.

"Oh, my God! Give me a break!" exclaimed Barbara Morgan, the mother of a Sussex kindergartner, when she heard the news. "I don't know how much I can handle of this. . . . Their lungs are, like, half our size."

Ms. Morgan, whose daughter coincidentally attends a day-care program at the church, said the message left on her answering machine by the PTA president said nothing about asbestos but simply stated that officials were not satisfied with the facilities.

Patrick Talbott, the father of a Sussex pre-kindergarten student, commended school officials for getting the children out of the church so quickly but added that he was concerned for the health of his child.

"I'm worried about it . . . down the road, something could be wrong with him," he said.

Mr. Talbott also said his son is disappointed over the prospect of missing more school.

"This is a let-down for him, because he wants to learn," Mr. Talbott said. "This makes me the teacher for all this week."

Most students missed four days of school before the county closed Sussex and found new places for the children to attend classes. Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students miss their seventh day of school today.

Sussex, in the 500 block of Woodward Drive in Essex, has been closed since Jan. 24 after tests revealed that the air in a kindergarten classroom had an asbestos level 40 times higher than is acceptable.

Additional tests persuaded school officials to close the 30-year-old building while asbestos is removed. All 515 Sussex students were moved to new locations, with most students starting classes at their new location Thursday.

After a meeting last Wednesday night, school officials promised concerned parents that the buildings temporarily housing their children would be visually checked and monitored for air quality to make sure they are safe.

Each of the schools involved -- Battle Grove, Hawthorne and Colgate elementaries and Deep Creek Middle -- has passed a visual inspection and is undergoing air-monitoring tests, school spokesman Richard E. Bavaria said.

Air tests, which according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards have to be conducted five times in several locations in and around each building, will be completed this week, Mr. Bavaria said.

Asbestos fibers that lodge in the lungs remain in the body for life. While any level of exposure involves some health risk, experts believe that the more exposure, the higher the risk.

The mineral fiber can cause everything from minor respiratory complaints to often-fatal diseases such as mesthelioma, a rare form of lung cancer.

School officials said last week that determining the level of exposure of students at Sussex would be impossible. However, they said it would be far below the levels and duration associated with people who develop the lung disease asbestosis.

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