When the new Bellingham School District maintenance director told the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards that he couldn’t find any sort of asbestos management plan in place at the district nor could he identify any one person designated to look for asbestos throughout district schools, a proverbial red flag was raised. The result was the discovery that buildings in the Bellingham School District hadn’t been tested for cancer-causing asbestos in at least 20 years.
According to an article in the Milford Daily News, Maintenance Director Roger Oakley was stunned when he discovered that his new employer wasn’t abiding by the regulations of the 1986 federal Asbestos-Containing Materials in School Act, which maintains that a management plan must be present at each school and that there must be a designated person – often a member of the maintenance staff – who is trained on how to handle asbestos-related situations when they arise.
“On my third day on the job, the state showed up in my office and said, ‘What are you doing about this?’ ” he said. Unfortunately, for the students and staff of the district, the answer was “nothing”.
Still, Oakley doesn’t think parents need to worry, though state officials from the Department of Labor Standards Asbestos Program instructed him to assume that every school building in the district contains traces of asbestos, which was a common element in building materials until the late 70s. Examples of asbestos-containing materials commonly found in schools include pipe insulation, boiler insulation, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, window glazing, and even stage curtains.
“As soon as everybody hears asbestos, they think the worst,” Oakley said. “The important thing is to make people understand that there is no present danger; there is none.”
Dangers arise when asbestos becomes airborne. Tiny airborne fibers can be inhaled and can eventually cause individuals to develop serious lung-related diseases like mesothelioma.