Parents discuss asbestos Medical assurances don't alleviate fears

February 22, 1992|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Staff Writer

Parents of Sussex Elementary students, who were moved from their school after the discovery of exposed and crumbling asbestos in the walls and ceiling, say their concerns about the future health of their children still have not been adequately addressed by school officials.

Thursday night about 150 parents met with medical specialists at Kenwood High School to talk about the fears they've had since the county decided to close Sussex Elementary until the asbestos can be removed or encased.

But in spite of doctors' assurances that children face an "extremely small" risk of developing health problems as a result of their time at Sussex school, parents did not get the guarantees they wanted that their children's health would not be affected in the future. Parents also accused school officials of dodging financial responsibility if their children developed illnesses resulting from the exposure later on.

Louise Reiter, a cousin of a Sussex student, said the schools are just putting off the inevitable. "How much do they think this is going to cost when these kids get [cancer from asbestos] in years to come? Millions!"

"They're not giving us the facts," said Florence Ulrich, who has three grandchildren at the school.

Asbestos fibers that lodge in the lungs remain in the body for life, health experts say.

While any level of exposure involves some health risk, experts believe that the more exposure, the higher the risk.

The fibers can cause health problems ranging from minor respiratory ailments to often-fatal diseases such as mesophelioma, a rare form of lung cancer.

Baseline pulmonary tests, which check lung capacity and are often used to determine whether lungs have been damaged, were also an issue of dispute between parents and medical experts.

One parent insisted that testing children now, and letting the school system foot the bill, would give doctors something to compare to future test results.

But medical experts insisted that since normal lung activity in children is already known, testing Sussex kids is pointless now.

"There is no reason to think that a 6- or 8- or 10-year-old child will have an abnormal pulmonary test," said Dr. Barbara McLean, of the University of Maryland Medical School, and one of three medical specialists who attended Thursday's meeting.

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