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August 21, 2018

Asbestos in classrooms disrupts parents' plans for their children

Huntington Beach parent Lily Coffin thought her young son would complete his education in the Ocean View School District.

Ethan, a second-grader, was happy learning alongside his friends at Hope View Elementary School, and Coffin was active in the Parent Teacher Organization.

But last week, Coffiin and other Ocean View parents learned that their children could have been exposed to potentially carcinogenic asbestos in their classrooms while the district worked to modernize several school sites.

“There’s no way I can trust my son is going to be safe there anymore,” she said of her decision to move Ethan to Seacliff Elementary in the neighboring Huntington Beach City School District.

Over the last several days, about 100 families have flooded the offices of Seacliff and Agnes L. Smith elementary schools to request an interdistrict transfer, Seacliff Principal Monique Huibregtse said Friday.

Hope View and two other Ocean View elementary schools — Lake View and Oak View — were closed last week while being tested for asbestos.

Ocean View officials announced that 300 students from Lake View Elementary will temporarily attend classes at the district’s Westmont and Harbour View schools while the district works to remove asbestos that is present above ceiling tiles at the school. The process could take up to 10 weeks, officials said.

Supt. Gustavo Balderas said Friday that Hope View and Oak View also will remain closed until further notice.

“Recently we received information from our consultants and experts that it is not in the best interest of students and staff to reopen these three schools until we obtain additional information,” Balderas said.

In the meantime, he said, the officials are working to identify schools inside and outside the Ocean View district to take the nearly 1,300 displaced students from Hope View and Oak View.

Test results at Lake View showed asbestos in two classrooms.

“It was a trace amount … and we are taking the necessary steps to get that situation under control,” according to a district statement Thursday night.

At Hope View, a sample taken in one classroom contained a single asbestos fiber collected under a tile that appeared to have been drilled into to run television wires, said Cary Ruben, a certified industrial hygienist.

Test results from Oak View were inconclusive, officials said.

The district said it will test for asbestos during the next several weeks at all 11 schools, where construction recently took place as part of the modernization effort.

The cost of the tests is about $700,000, said Assistant Supt. Roni Ellis.

Construction has been suspended at every school until the summer. The district, along with Cal/OSHA, is investigating whether contractors continued to remove asbestos while students were in classrooms, which would violate state law.

Ocean View officials could not provide an estimate Friday afternoon of the number of families who have applied for transfers.

Large numbers of students leaving Ocean View could mean financial trouble for the district. Like many school districts, Ocean View receives funding from the state based on student attendance.

The district is losing at least $68,000 a day in state funding because students can’t attend classes.

That’s just the beginning of financial worries for the district. Factoring in legal costs, changes to transportation and asbestos testing and abatement, the district could spend millions out of its general fund, Ellis said.

The district could end up asking the state to help with costs, officials said.

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that until the 1970s was widely used in building products and insulation materials. Fibers can be released into the air during demolition work, repairs and remodeling, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

When Lake View, Oak View and Hope View schools were built decades ago, asbestos was used as fireproofing on metal beams above the ceiling. Over time, the dust began to fall from the beams and settle on top of classroom ceiling tiles, district records show.

Though contact with asbestos that hasn’t been disturbed isn’t harmful, it becomes a hazard when the dust becomes airborne, said Steven Viani, a registered civil engineer and engineering contractor with experience in asbestos and other hazardous materials.

Inhaling high levels of the dust can increase the risk of lung disease that isn’t detected until years later, including a type of cancer called mesothelioma, experts say.

Teachers have expressed concern that they weren’t notified about the asbestos above the tiles and said the district should have placed signs restricting access to limit the risk of the dust becoming airborne.

hannah.fry@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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Asbestos in classrooms disrupts parents' plans for their children