Asbestos Scare Closes NJ School

A Montclair, New Jersey school remained closed today after high levels of hazardous asbestos were found in side the building.

According to an article in The Star-Ledger, Renaissance Middle School, which houses 239 students, was evacuated last Friday after testing found airborne asbestos in one of four samples taken during the installation of fire doors on the school’s third floor.

The sample had a reading of “460 structures” which, according to Steve Jaraczewski of Detail Associates, the Montclair school district’s asbestos consultant, is more than six times the acceptable levels. The school was build in 1899, when asbestos was regularly used as a fire retardant in schools and other commercial buildings. The mineral is a known carcinogen.

Parents were astounded at the news. “You want to keep them home tomorrow?” asked Frank Alvarez, the superintendent of schools, at a meeting held with parents on Monday morning. “Yes, Yes,” most of the parents shouted.

Cleanup was to begin over the weekend and was overseen by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Parents requested that the students’ lockers also be included in the cleanup. Jaraczewski also told parents they should discard their children’s backpacks as a safeguard against asbestos fibers adhering to the porous fabric.

“If it was my kid … I’d get rid of the backpack,” Jaraczewski said.

The building that houses Renaissance Middle School is owned by the Archdiocese of Newark and leased to Montclair School District. Jaraczewski blamed the archdiocese for their poor asbestos management plan but parents were annoyed at the finger pointing.

Dana Sullivan, the Montclair schools’ business administrator, said the district just discovered that asbestos was present in a brown undercoating of plaster that is found on the walls throughout the school.

“We had not yet informed [the archdiocese] because we had not received a written report yet,” Sullivan said. “I wish we had. I don’t know that it would have mattered. I don’t know.”
The diocese, which performed the fire-door replacement at the district’s request, informed the district that work would begin last Monday, several days before school officials noticed the broken plaster, Sullivan said.

“We knew they were putting in fire doors. What we didn’t know was that they were disturbing this plaster, this brown coat,” Sullivan explained.

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