Aug 23, 2009

Parents Alarmed At Hazardous Conditions & Asbestos At DC's John Burroughs Elementary

I received a number of emails today about Environmental Protection Agency violations and a notice of asbestos at John Burroughs elementary school. The school is described as being replete with environmental hazards. Burroughs elementary school parents met in June and were quite concerned that the school's renovation project was too ambitious to be completed by schools opening in August. It seems that the parents called this one right as Burroughs teachers and staff had to face chemical toxins, flying dust , notice of asbestos and inadequate air quality while preparing for their students return last week. According to a notice from the PTA- the guidelines for proper ventilation are not being followed.
The renovation project is under the supervision of Mr. Alan Lew. The name of the construction company is the Centennial Construction Company which reportedly hires day laborers who may not be aware of the hazards involved in this project and do not have experience in the appropriate disposal of hazardous materials and largely do not speak English. It has been reported that asbestos is in the new wing of John Burroughs, has chipped away and is what is known as fryable and is being covered over by tile. The picture of the notice of asbestos was posted at John Burroughs elementary school.
Complaints have been made that dust is all over everything, chemicals from paint and glue fumes stagnate the building as all of the air conditioners are not working in the school and the windows have not been open for the proper ventilation and time frames for airing out the school have not been followed. Kindergarten size toilets are being placed where 1st through 6th graders and middle school students will have to use the bathroom now that the school has expanded.
Unfortunately, rather than thinking about the safety of students, teachers and staff - tomorrow these are the conditions that DC students will face if left up to DC school administration. Given the support of an involved and active John Burroughs PTA- parents plan an early press conference tomorrow morning. Here is the notice that they sent out to parents, teachers and school staff on August 22:
"In observing the work that is being hastily done at Burroughs and remains hugely incomplete, although school starts in less than 48 hours - please be mindful that the EPA states that 72 hours is required to adequately ventilate the building after any construction is complete.

From the looks of progress, this will not happen. At 4:10pm, Saturday, August 22 dust is waifting through the air in the building, while our teachers are rushing to prepare their classrooms for the children. There is dust everywhere and sawing, hammering, nailing, moving is going on as I type this email - please download the pictures, taken just minutes ago to see a sample of the existing conditions.

Please call the EPA's hotline (800 438-4318) to request that an Indoor Air Quality Test be done on Monday, August 24 prior to school opening, and that the results be made available to all PARENTS, TEACHERS and STAFF - so that we know that the air quality levels are safe enough for our children, teachers and staff to inhabit the building.

Ventilate when needed. Some construction activities can release large amounts of VOCs into the school, and if the school is already enclosed with walls, windows, and doors, outdoor air can no longer easily flow through the building and remove the VOCs. In addition to affecting the health of the construction workers, these VOCs can also be adsorbed onto other building materials and be re-released into the air later when the school is occupied by children and staff. During certain construction activities, temporary ventilation systems should be installed to quickly remove the gases.

Ventilation is generally needed when "wet" building materials are in use, when using materials that give off an odor, or when using materials that carry a manufacturer’s warning regarding the need for ventilation. Odors from building materials are the result of chemicals being released from the materials into the air, so if there is an odor present, it is safest to provide ventilation that will quickly remove those odors from the building. Examples of potentially problematic construction activities include painting (even with no- or low-VOC paints), spreading of floor adhesives, and use of large amounts of caulk, sealants, and cleaning agents. Additionally, the installation of large amounts of building materials, such as carpet or vinyl-based flooring products and composite wood cabinets and shelves, can require extra ventilation if the material has not been carefully selected or aired-out before being unrolled or unpackaged within the school.

During installation of carpet, paints, furnishings, and other VOC-emitting products, provide supplemental (spot) ventilation for at least 72 hours after work is completed. It is important that an exhaust fan be used to pull the polluted air out of the building, not to push outdoor air into the building. Simply opening windows or doors is not enough to effectively exhaust contaminants in most cases. The fan should be placed in a window or exterior door as close to the work area as possible, and any openings in the window or door around the fan be temporarily sealed with plastic or cardboard. Then open a window or exterior door at the opposite end of the room or building, so that fresher outdoor air will flow across the work area and sweep polluted air out through the exhaust fan. The size of exhaust fan needed will increase as the size of the room increases, and as the amount of gases being released into the air increases. The fan should provide about 5 air changes per hour (5 ACH). Divide the volume of the room in cubic feet by 12 to get the minimum amount of cubic feet per minute (CFM) that the fan must be able to exhaust. For example, a classroom with a volume of 9000 cubic feet (1000 square feet of floor area with 9 foot ceilings) divided by 12 results in a fan of 750 CFM. A 21 inch box fan may be sufficient for a single classroom if the materials are not too strong a source of gases, but would certainly not be sufficient for a wing or a whole school. As a rule of thumb, there may be enough airflow if odors do not spread out of the immediate area where the work is being performed, of if dust or smoke released into the air can be seen to be drawn towards the exhaust fan. As long as the odors or air pollutants are present, the temporary exhaust ventilation must continue to be operated, even during nights and weekends if necessary. Ventilation should continue for a minimum of 24 hours after completion, or until there are no longer any noticeable odors. "
Posted by The Washington Teacher


Linda/RetiredTeacher said...

Make certain you file complaints with state and federal agencies, and not only with the district. Also, be certain to look for violations regarding special education and mistreatment of teachers and students (assaults, threats, etc.) Teachers need to have very high standards for themselves and for their students. School districts hate and fear "reports" and lawsuits.

Anonymous said...

The kids and teachers are in there and have been for how long before construction became evident ? This is conscience shocking. If they can re-build New Orleans,we can support this school ! Is there a donation line open for Americans to support ? We also have the guadruple reassortant of which is a subtype of H1N1.How clean is the environment at John Burroughs ? Hope President Obama's team makes a visit to this school.When will the construction be complete ? "WHO" contacted yet ?

Anonymous said...

Hang in there John Burroughs Elementary ! We made it on Hedi with CNN twice to get the word out for donations to help ! Wish we could get the Live Scribe pen in for a % and Hedi is asking about the cost of school supplies.First we need the school buildings in healthy operational condition and that's where part of the stimulus is to be directed.Call Obama's team and tell them ! Bet they jump in to help with support !

Anonymous said...

"Health Action Team" AARP phone number is 805-617-3390. Health Action.ORG !Universial Health Care at work !

Anonymous said...

Have you sent the pictures to I report at ?

Anonymous said...

This also happened last year with several of the schools that were being renovated.

I witnessed first hand all safety measures, even basic ones that a lay person could identify, being completely ignored.

It is so completely outrageous. From my experience I know that we cannot trust Lew's proclamations. It would be great if parents and teachers could do some independent testing for asbestos, lead dust, etc.

Anonymous said...

Mr.Lew will know if there has been a asbestos contractor to test.Sometimes they tile over it and don't remove it.Has it been tested already ?

Anonymous said...

How is the construction going ? Almost finished ?