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Students, staff exposed to asbestos at College Community potentially for months

The district says it happened during construction in June - but a test only detected it last week.
Published: Dec. 30, 2021 at 11:01 AM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - College Community School district alerted parents this week that students and staff at one elementary school may have been unwittingly exposed to asbestos for months and will extend winter break to clean it up.

The letter sent Wednesday said the district learned last week about the asbestos release at Prairie Crest Elementary that dated back to construction work in the building in June. The letter says a contractor replacing the carpet did not properly abate asbestos within the carpet glue before removing it.

A district spokesperson told KCRG-TV9 it is still in the process of investigating the exact length and extent of exposure to staff and students. As part of that process, the district is working with the DNR, OSHA and EPA to determine how the exposure happened and any fault for it.

The letter notes the asbestos was released during construction work in June but not detected until December and those tests could not determine the level of asbestos in the air. Subsequent tests on December 27th came back clear of asbestos but the district is moving ahead with an aggressive clean-up effort nonetheless.

The district says it learned of the exposure on December 22, the first day of winter break in the district.

“Due to the holiday, it took several days to receive all the information needed from various agencies in order to plan a course of action and timelines for detailed communication to staff and families,” the letter from the district office to parents states.

The district says Prairie Crest students and staff will not have class Monday and may be out until January 9th as teams work to clean up asbestos.

“Out of an abundance of caution and under the direction of the DNR, OSHA, EPA and the district asbestos consultant, the entire building will be cleaned and abated to ensure any potentially remaining asbestos fibers have been removed,” the district letter states.

Asbestos exposure can lead to serious health issues and the CDC notes “is a dangerous substance and should be avoided”. The CDC adds that not everyone exposed will develop health issues as the amount of exposure and length of exposure can factor into the health effects.

Asbestos exposure can lead to significant lung issues, including mesothelioma and lung cancer. The CDC recommends anyone exposed should consult with their doctor. Watch the video with this story to hear from a medical expert on the health issues with asbestos exposure.

In two separate incidents, the Cedar Rapids School District faced penalties for asbestos exposure of staff and students during construction work. In the most recent, the district agreed to pay a $4,500 fine for asbestos exposure during derecho repairs at Kennedy High School, while Perfection Property Restoration paid a $6,500 fine for it. Earlier this year, the state also announced a settlement with Abatement Specialties for asbestos exposure during construction work at Washington High School in 2014 and 2015. The district also reached a settlement with the state in that case.

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