Hank Investigates: Asbestos in Schools - 7News Boston WHDH-TV

Hank Investigates: Asbestos in Schools

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These broken-up floor tiles contain dangerous asbestos and where they are will surprise you. Inspectors took these 2007 photos in a grade school auditorium in Worcester the same place kids gathered for concerts and assemblies.

Chuck Levenstein, PhD, Occupational and Environmental Health Expert

"It's well-established that it is a carcinogen, and that exposure to it will cause cancer."

More shocking: Officials found Worcester students had "picked up the vinyl asbestos tiles, broken them into smaller pieces, and tossed them around the auditorium."

Experts know--When loose asbestos fibers get into the air and into your lungs--that's a health hazard.

Chuck Levenstein, PhD, Occupational and Environmental Health Expert

"I would not want my kids exposed to it, and I don't think you want your kids exposed to it."

That same year, inspectors went into this Everett elementary school--they found damaged asbestos on pipes--and had to close the boys locker room.

In a Holyoke school, inspectors took these photos--showing deteriorating asbestos insulation actually being held in place with duct tape.

Hank

"Does this school have a problem?"

Chuck Levenstein, PhD, Occupational and Environmental Health Expert

"Yes! This school has a problem. You can see it!"

The Mass Division of Occupational safety--the DOS--inspects schools across Massachusetts to make sure they're following the asbestos safety rules. We obtained their reports dating back more than a decade and look: One school with 18 violations, another with 20 another with 21... look at these lists! Hundreds of violations. In fact, ninety percent of schools the DOS checked were breaking the law!

Hank

"You tell them in advance when the inspector is coming, correct?"

Ernie Kelley, MA Division of Occupational Safety  

"In many cases we do"

Hank

"And still they're not in compliance!"

 Ernie Kelley, MA Division of Occupational Safety  

"That's true."

The inspection reports are disturbing enough, but we found what may be worse-- are the inspections the state's never done.

Hank  

"There are hundreds and hundreds of schools that your inspectors have never been inside!"

Ernie Kelley, MA Division of Occupational Safety  

"Yes."

In Worcester, where those floor tiles have now been removed there are 44 public schools. Only 6 of them have been inspected!

Hank

"Does it surprise you that they haven't been here?"

Dr. Melinda Boone, Worcester School Superintendent   

"Given the aging infrastructure of schools, I'd be concerned any place they haven't been."

And we found where they haven't been is shocking. Our investigation discovered entire communities look at all of these!--where, according to state records, not one public school had been checked by the state for asbestos violations.

Parent

"I'm pretty horrified."

In Newton, 22 public schools, city officials say they're all in compliance with the law. But has the state ever checked any of them? No.

Parent

"I mean it's not acceptable, I mean absolutely your kids are at risk. Somebody should be here."

Even city officials are concerned.

Arthur Cabral, Newton Building Department

"It's something they should do. It's just beyond me as to why they're not."

State officials say when asbestos rules are broken, it doesn't necessarily mean kids were exposed to asbestos. They insist the risk is low.

But they admit there's only one full-time inspector.

Hank

"Why don't you inspect more schools?"

Ernie Kelley, MA Division of Occupational Safety  

"We inspect as many as we can with the resources we have."

So is your child's school safe? The state can order corrective actions sure as soon as inspectors get there. The question is will they ever get there.

Ernie Kelley, MA Division of Occupational Safety  

"It leaves parents with a great deal of uncertainty. They're sending their children into environments which they can't assure themselves, or the kids. or anyone, that they're safe."

If you want to see a list of school that have been inspected, we've put that on our website. If you want to see the asbestos plan for your child's school that should be open to the public and on file at the school.

Click here to see the list (.pdf) as given to us by the MA Division of Occupational Safety of schools it inspected:

(Copyright (c) 2010 Sunbeam Television Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

 

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