Asbestos Found In Montclair, NJ Middle School Causes Panic In Parents, Students

Approximately 200 middle school students were forced to evacuate the Renaissance Middle School Building in May after officials determined that there were high levels of asbestos-containing materials had been disturbed during construction work. Officials from the New Jersey State Department of Health and Senior Services located asbestos-containing plaster products within the school and deemed that students may have been at risk for inhalation.

Dana Sullivan, Business Administrator for Montclair, NJ schools, assured parents that Renaissance Middle School is now “completely safe” and that the 100-plus air quality tests that have been conducted within the building have indicated that there is no longer a threat of asbestos inhalation. Despite this, Sullivan stated that a dining hall that had previously contained asbestos would no longer be used by students or staff as an additional precaution.

Sullivan’s statements did not satisfy all parents in the Montclair district. In fact, it was parents that first complained about conditions in the Renaissance building after their children divulged that constant construction led to dust and debris on tables, chairs, and other surfaces in Madonna Hall, where the students ate lunch. New Jersey health inspectors were brought in after the initial complaints and confirmed that there were in fact asbestos-containing materials within the school.

Complaints poured in again in mid-May, and health inspectors were again called in to investigate. The school released a letter to parents stating that plaster ceiling tiles may have been “disturbed” during construction. The following day, students were removed from the school and were kept at home for two days while professional cleaning crews were sent in to properly decontaminate the affected areas. School resumed on May 21st, after health agencies deemed Renaissance an asbestos-free building.

Despite the Montclair districts best efforts to promptly remove all asbestos, parents continue to be unhappy in regards to the way the situation was handled by school officials. Several parents claim that, although asbestos was found in March, they were not informed until mid-May. The omission has prompted several parents to write angry letters to school administrators.

New Jersey has several school buildings that are in desperate need of structural repairs, and the potentially dangerous affects of asbestos exposure are expected to become a serious issue. Asbestos exposure has long been linked to the eventual development of mesothelioma, a deadly cancer affecting the pleural lining of the lungs that has no known cure and a survival rate of less than 1%. Mesothelioma can lie dormant in an individual for upwards of fifty years, a fact that promotes fear for the future in Montclair students and their parents.

“Nobody was really watching out for the kids,” said Mary Ann Cucci, PTA president and student parent. “The level of trust is just not there anymore.”

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