Asbestos Found in Middle School

Tests in one room raise concerns about protocol and the whole building
Opening a wall to check for mold led to the discovery of asbestos at the East Hampton Middle School. Morgan McGivern

   Room 18, an unused room in the basement of the East Hampton Middle School, was one of two places in the school where the environmental consulting firm J.C. Broderick and Associates tested for mold. However, when the Sheetrock wall was cut into for investigation, “some asbestos-containing material was disturbed,” Brandon Broderick said at an East Hampton School Board meeting on Tuesday night. 

    Bulk material was found on the floor of the room as well, and it is not clear where that material — which contains almost double the amount of asbestos considered safe — originated.

    Mr. Broderick said that Barbara Eisenberg of the New York State Department of Labor’s asbestos division told him “to clean up all material inside the room and to identify origins of material.” The room has been isolated, and, he added, “Ms. Eisenberg was satisfied that appropriate samples were taken and that all protocols were satisfied.”

    But Alison Anderson, a school board member, disagreed. “I spoke to the same person, and I got different information,” she said. “We didn’t follow proper protocol,” she said. “We allowed our staff to open up the wall.”

    “We’re not just concerned with one wall. We’re concerned with the whole building,” Ms. Anderson said. “We’re drilling in that building for new wires, and we’re not sure where the asbestos is located.”

    Mr. Broderick said that the asbestos-containing material did not come from the Sheetrock itself, and he saw no reason to be overanxious. “We don’t see a buildingwide problem,” he said.

    “Really?” said Ms. Anderson. “We just spent money on asbestos removal, and the only room we’ve just tested has been identified to have asbestos, correct?” she asked. Mr. Broderick concurred.

    “So isn’t there the possibility that it is in other rooms?” asked Ms. Anderson, who expressed great concern for the health of students and staff members. “The board should come up with a plan to deal with this situation.”

    Mr. Broderick explained that asbestos testing is “not an exact science,” and is mostly based on laws that were created in 1987. Since then, other materials that contain asbestos but were not included in the original checklist of items have been identified, including joint compound that may have been used in small amounts in the school before it was discovered to be a hazard.

    He suggested that the school’s asbestos management plan be updated and added, “The 25-year-old law probably needs to be updated too.”

    Concerns about air quality from the ­asbestos were brought up, but Mr. Broderick said there was no exposure in the room next to room 18, where air quality was tested.
    “As long as the material is intact, it won’t hurt you,” he said. “It’s when it’s disturbed that it is more of a danger.”
    “So the fact that the building is still being worked on, that there are large cracks in the walls — shouldn’t those cracks be tested?” asked Patricia Stanis, a school parent, who had also called Ms. Eisenberg at the Department of Labor. “Children are in and out of that area all the time, and if teachers are banging posters into the walls, could they be releasing asbestos into the air?”
    Eric Woellhof, the district’s director of facilities, said that the wall plaster in the room was deemed a non-asbestos-containing product. However, there are approximately 50 Transite panels in the middle school that were deemed safe, but both he and Mrs. Stanis, along with the board, felt that they should have labels on them recommending that they not be drilled into.
    “Or remove them,” said Mrs. Stanis.
    J.C. Broderick and Associates was originally contracted to test the school following a concern about mold resulting from water seepage in the basement, which is not waterproofed.
    The first step in testing for mold is to simply look for it, Mr. Broderick said. “If water is being introduced into the building, the area must be kept clean. Mold needs a moisture intrusion along with a nutrient source to proliferate.” Problems in both of the areas of concern — room 18 and an area where the school’s dryers create condensation — were addressed. However, this does not rule out mold problems in the future, which caused distress for Ms. Anderson, although Mr. Woelhoff said that moisture was not found in the walls of the rooms, which are below grade but are seldom used.
    “Our staff is eating lunch down there,” Ms. Anderson said.
    A motion was made by Stephen Talmage to review the district’s asbestos management plan.
    “Before next Tuesday,” said Laura Anker Grossman, the board’s vice president.
    “We’ll do our best,” replied Mr. Woelhoff.