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Asbestos found, school is safe, parents told


Baltimore County officials who closed Martin Boulevard Elementary School Friday after asbestos fibers were detected in the air met with parents yesterday to assure them that the building is safe.

"The school was closed, not because of health concerns, but because of the concerns raised by parents," Principal Carolan Stewart told anxious parents when the Essex school reopened yesterday after a weekend cleanup.

The school notified parents last week after elevated asbestos levels were found in the cafeteria, several classrooms and hallways outside those classrooms.

The permissible exposure level is .2 fiber per cubic centimeter of air over a time-weighed average of eight hours, explained Reggie Ringgold, the school system's acting supervisor for environmental services. The highest levels found in the school measured .02 fiber per cubic centimeter.

Ms. Stewart said these levels are "well below" those considered hazardous by Baltimore County schools, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency.

However, she said, "To many parents, any asbestos is too much asbestos."

Asbestos became an issue among many area parents last year when the nearby Sussex Elementary School was closed for five months for extensive asbestos removal and renovation.

The school reopened in September. Asbestos cleanup also delayed the reopening of Milford Mill High and inflated the cost of renovations there.

Mr. Ringgold had the 65-year-old Martin Boulevard school building cleaned over the weekend. Workmen also removed asbestos from heating pipes in a hallway, replaced floor tiles and put a protective coating on a plaster ceiling, he said.

The air was checked throughout the weekend, and asbestos levels fell. The monitoring will continue this week, he assured parents.

Yesterday, Mr. Ringgold and Dr. Joan Colfer, chief of school health services, led a group of parents through the school and showed them what had been done.

The problem was discovered last week during routine maintenance, when workmen were cleaning up asbestos debris found in a crawl space near the boiler room.

After they had finished, the air in the school was checked to see if any asbestos had made its way through the vents.

"They were picking up some asbestos fibers," said Ms. Stewart, "but they wanted to find the source."

School officials discovered that the asbestos fibers in the air were, in fact, different from the fibers found in the basement crawl space. That meant there was another source of asbestos, and the building will continue to be monitored to determine whether that source was eliminated during the cleanup.

Parents were notified by letter before the clean-up of the crawl space began. Another letter with the latest information was sent out yesterday. Parents also were invited to another meeting tentatively set for Oct. 21.

Although the concern of parents prompted officials to close the school for one day of the cleanup, the very act of closing the building "scared a lot of people," said Deborah Hirsch, who has two children at the school.

"We were in a lose-lose situation," said Assistant Superintendent Stephen Jones. "The rumors were running rampant many parents had gotten misinformation."

Although Ms. Hirsch said she was confident the school is safe, other parents wanted to know how long their children might have been exposed to asbestos before last week.

"We think the risk is very small," Dr. Colfer told the parents. "No one recommends rushing your child off to a doctor. There's really nothing to see and, hopefully, there never will be.

"I would feel safe sending my child to school here," she said. "Asbestos is really a pervasive problem. Unfortunately, it happens to be in a lot of school buildings."

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