Manhattan Beach school officials are trying to determine how a work crew was unaware of the asbestos contained in tiles it was grinding in the Mira Costa High School library — without appropriate safety gear and with students, parents and faculty members nearby.
Mike Matthews, superintendent of the Manhattan Beach Unified School District, said it was the contractor’s responsibility to identify asbestos. A representative for the two contracting firms involved, Progessive Surface Solutions and KYA Group, could not be reached for comment.
The district is still in the process of cleaning up the asbestos tiles and toxic fibers, which were disturbed by contractors at the school library in August. So far, no health problems have been reported to school officials, although health effects from asbestos can remain dormant for decades.
Meanwhile, the district also responded this week to the discovery of mold in classrooms at two different schools among several classrooms at Mira Costa High School and Manhattan Beach Middle School.
Asbestos abatement continues
Workers this week continued the intricate task of cleaning Mira Costa’s library of any trace of asbestos material. A 75-page report detailing the clean-up effort was approved by state regulators.
While the school reopened other parts of the campus, the library has remained closed since Aug. 16, when contractors hired by the district mistakenly ground a 300-square-foot section of tile that contained asbestos, in preparation to lay down carpet.
Covering the tiles with carpet or other flooring material, provided they are not disturbed, is an acceptable method of handling the tiles, which are only dangerous when they are broken up into fragments, according to contractors who specialize in dealing with asbestos tiles.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued violation notices to the district and two contracting companies responsible for the work.
The tiles were previously identified at Mira Costa in a report that all school campuses must maintain related to the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act. That report identifies the presence of asbestos-containing building materials in schools so that incidents like the one at Mira Costa do not happen.
Matthews said the principal, the plant manager, the librarian and the deputy superintendent all knew there was asbestos tile in the room.
The tiles, Matthews said, “had been clearly identified as asbestos-containing building materials in our prior AHERA reports and inspections.”
Exactly where the communication breakdown occurred could become the subject of litigation as the AQMD pursues civil penalties for the violations.
“The AHERA report should have been utilized,” Matthews said.
On the day the incident happened, a week before the start of school, students, teachers and parents were in the library distributing textbooks as workers were grinding asbestos tiles in the storage room, opening and closing the door while kicking up dust. They were not wearing face masks.
Librarian Bridget Sullivan was reportedly playing music or she would have realized sooner what the workers were doing, according to Mira Costa English teacher and union President Shawn Chen.
Sullivan did not return requests for comment.
Chen said Sullivan understood, as did other school officials, that the workers were installing carpeting that day specifically to address the asbestos-containing tiles. Even before the work was performed that day, Sullivan was concerned about it, Chen said.
In the process of moving some shelving in the storage room in June, some of the tiles were damaged. Since then, the librarian told school officials that she did not want to work in the building until it was free of any asbestos or lead, which also was discovered, according to Chen.
“Ultimately, the situation seemed to be resolved and they decided to put carpet over the small part of tile,” Chen said. “So Bridget asked if the room could be prepared on a day that students are not present. Instead they showed up on that morning at 7 a.m.”
When the librarian discovered the workers grinding on the asbestos tiles and tracking dust out of the room, she texted Chen, who in turn notified the AQMD.
Matthews acknowledged some immediate miscommunication.
“The first few minutes of the discovery of the unauthorized sanding were intense,” Matthews said in a statement. “There were some challenging moments of communication and miscommunication, and within a few minutes everyone understood the concern and was working to address it.”
When Chen arrived at the library, she said she saw school officials moving books.
“They were adamant there was no asbestos,” Chen said. “It doesn’t seem like a miscommunication. If we hadn’t been there, they would have done what they were doing.”
So far, the district has not said how long it will take workers to finish remediation at the library. Next steps at the AQMD involve sorting out civil penalties for the violations, which are typically resolved out of court.
Classroom mold issue
Elsewhere at Mira Costa High, where mold was discovered in classrooms in the math and science building, classes resumed this week after the fungus was removed.
Mold also was discovered in at least nine classrooms at Manhattan Beach Middle School that are still being cleaned.
Matthews said the district was working to figure out what caused the mold at both locations.
“While we do not know the cause, we know we have had unusually humid weather,” Matthews said in a statement. “We are examining potential repairs that might be needed, recommendations to keep our HVAC systems operating throughout the summer, and/or maybe changing our carpet cleaning schedules.”
Spanish teacher Liz Laffoon has been conducting class from the middle school’s library since Sept. 6, when elevated levels of mold were discovered in her classroom. Laffoon said she was not given information about what type of mold or how much was discovered.
“We were just told our room will be shut if the range was too high,” she said.
It was another teacher who first found mold in her classroom during the first week of school. Laffoon said the teacher noticed a strange odor and lifted up the carpet to find mold.
The remaining classrooms are expected to be tested as well, Laffoon said. But until the classrooms can be scrubbed, Laffoon doesn’t have access to teaching materials, and there is no indication yet when the work will be completed, she said.
“It’s just been frustrating,” she said.
Update This article was corrected 9/16/18 8 a.m. to say teacher Liz Laffoon has been out of her classroom since Sept. 6 and not Aug. 30.
Source: Daily Breeze