By Amy Laube | Head Copy Editor

The commercials are everywhere: In hopes to gain new clients, law firms have detailed the numerous health risks of asbestos in ominous tones, imploring those diagnosed with mesothelioma, the rare form of lung cancer it is known to cause, to call them for a “free” consultation. A fibrous material highly resistant to heat and other chemicals, asbestos was used in manufacturing goods, such as floor tiles and insulation, until the late 1980s. It was then found to be extremely hazardous to those who inhale it and banned from use.

For some, the dangers of asbestos may seem disconnected and irrelevant. However, this could not be further from the truth. In all of the buildings that make up Marshfield High School that were built prior to the 1980s, asbestos lurks in every corner.

According to Joel Smallwood, the district’s maintenance supervisor, the Coos Bay School District is in complete compliance with Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) laws. Smallwood is the designated asbestos management planner for the school district and is in charge of conducting inspections and updating the management plan, among other responsibilities. These management plans contain all information pertaining to the control of the asbestos.

“Each school building has its own plan that has been around since 1986, when they first started really watching asbestos and things on where it is in each building, where it’s been removed, worked on,” Smallwood said.

AHERA set the standard for public buildings with regards to asbestos treatment with its passage in 1986. Marshfield, which has asbestos within the walls, floor tiles, underneath the buildings and other various areas, has taken the necessary precautions since. As most of the asbestos was not removed, visual inspections of the areas occur biannually with in-depth inspections every three years, the next of which is coming up this summer.

“In schools, one of the big things they’ve always pushed is what they call ‘manage in place,’” Smallwood said. “In other words, leave it alone and don’t disturb it unless you have to.”

The most recent removal of asbestos was several years ago when tiles in two classrooms on the third floor in the main building were completely replaced, as they showed signs of becoming friable. Smallwood said the asbestos remaining at Marshfield is considered non-friable, which means it is not currently dangerous to one’s health. All friable asbestos was removed in the original inspection of the building.

“You have what they call friable asbestos and non-friable asbestos, and what friable means is, ‘Can you get it in the air?’” Smallwood said. “You can look at it and see that it’s not friable because it’s not getting in the air.”

During the original inspection, any area presumed to contain asbestos was meant to undergo asbestos testing. However, the testing is expensive; thus, several areas, the floor tiles in particular, were simply assumed to have asbestos and have been treated as such since then.

“There’s a lot of assumed asbestos in the building,” Smallwood said. “Never been tested, but we treated as if it has been tested and it was positive.”

Student knowledge of the asbestos within the school building varies. Sophomore Ally Putas was aware of the asbestos but not of the management program in place to control it.

“I guess it makes me feel a little unsafe in the school building,” Putas said. “There’s that saying that ‘ignorance is bliss.’”

AHERA states the school must inform parents of the situation every year, which Marshfield does through a section in the student handbook that is received at registration. For some students, however, this is not enough.

Junior Kynetta Tavernier believes this is another example of MHS administration withholding information from the student body.

“I feel like the school needs to inform us more about it and other issues,” Tavernier said.

Putas said it would be best if the administration made an announcement regarding the asbestos and its respective management, as most of the fear comes from being unaware of potential harmful effects.

“I think that they should come out and say it is in the school, but no one can be hurt by it,” Putas said.

Senior Caitlin Mansfield has not given the asbestos much thought. Because it is under control, she does not find its existence concerning. She does not see why anyone should be afraid.

“If it’s controlled, then I feel it’s fine,” Mansfield said. “What are they going to do, tear down the entire school?”

According to Smallwood, that is exactly what would be required to remove all of the asbestos in the buildings. Because of this, the only time all of it would be removed is immediately prior to the buildings being demolished.

“You’d have to take all of the wallboard, all of the sheetrock off of all the walls,” Smallwood said. “We have a lot of pipes in this building from the old heating system that are in the walls that are without a doubt covered with asbestos because of the age of the building. You’d have to strip the building to the studs.”

As demolition is not in the foreseeable future, Smallwood will continue to watch over the asbestos. He again emphasized that management in place is the best possible way to ensure the safety of students, staff and visitors alike.

“The flooring, well taken care of, isn’t a problem at all,” Smallwood said. “If we come in here and start tearing this flooring up, we’ve created a hazard where there’s not one currently.”