SELAH, Wash. — With classes at the Selah School District starting next week, John Campbell Elementary School is undergoing cleanup and testing for asbestos after small traces were detected earlier in the summer.
While its presence may cause concern among parents, teachers and staff, district and environmental officials say the hazard is minimal and should be taken care of this week.
In late June, workers began repairing the roof of the main building and they eventually noticed material falling from the roof into the attic space, Superintendent Shane Backlund said Monday. Testing of the attic revealed “trace amounts” of asbestos in the air and work on the roof was stopped, Backlund added. The asbestos originated from roof felt layered between the wooden joists of the roof.
Asbestos, when inhaled over a prolonged period of time, can cause serious damage to the lungs and other organs and is a known carcinogen. The material used to be common in building insulation and as a fire retardant.
The district hired Yakima-based Fulcrum Environmental Consulting to test and remove the fibers. A first test of the air sample was taken the first week in August and a second taken this past weekend, said Backlund. While the contaminant was detected in the attic, none was detected in the classrooms, offices or hallways.
But to be safe, Backlund said no one is gaining entry into the building until the all-clear is given by the Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency. The agency is in charge of overseeing federal and state air quality regulations in Yakima County with the exception of the Yakama Nation reservation.
“We’re probably being overly cautious,” said Backlund, “but we also don’t want to create panic.”
Mark Edler, an enforcement officer with the agency, said 11 air samples were taken in the occupied areas of the building and no asbestos was found. Edler said he anticipates Fulcrum will be done with cleaning and testing by the middle of the week.
Both Edler and Clean Air Agency Executive Director Gary Pruitt agreed the findings at Campbell were not of a “high concern,” but it still needed to be addressed. Any level of asbestos, no matter how small, must be dealt with.
“Until it’s cleaned, nobody goes into the building,” said Edler.
Backlund said preparation for the first day of school is not being disrupted by the main building’s temporary closure. Teachers are still coming in for training and meetings elsewhere in the school, and school staff are taking calls from concerned parents. Campbell is comprised of four buildings and two mobile classrooms.
When asked whether classes would start Monday, Backlund said he was sure that would be the case.
The district, though, has to look at all possibilities, he added.
“Anything is possible,” he said. “If we still do get test results with trace results (of asbestos), we’re going to sit down, come up with a contingency plan and figure out what to do next.”