Angry Parents Threaten Sit-In unless Asbestos Abatement Is Delayed

Man wearing goggles and a respirator mask

Remodeling of old schools usually can’t come fast enough for the parents who want to see their children in more modernized buildings.

This time they want it delayed.

Angry parents are threatening a disruptive sit-in at a Brooklyn, New York, elementary school Friday if the city’s School Construction Authority (SCA) moves forward with its renovation schedule.

At issue is the asbestos abatement that is set to begin Friday at Public School 29. It is part of an 18-month project that began in March and will include a new roof, new windows and a new exterior.

Although the abatement will occur only after school and on weekends, parents are demanding it wait until the summer-long recess when their kids are long gone.

They are nervous about asbestos fibers being released into the air during an abatement. Asbestos abatement can be a complicated process, and usually is done by trained, licensed professionals under strict regulations.

An exposure to asbestos can cause a number of serious health issues, including  mesothelioma, which can lay dormant for up to 50 years before symptoms become evident.

A group of parents protested outside the school Monday evening, and has threatened to do a more serious demonstration Friday.

“You don’t have to be a scientist to know asbestos is toxic,” said Brad Lander, area councilman who joined the parents in protest. “Parents don’t have any assurance that their kids will be safe.”

Education department officials insist the school will be safe for the children, but also that the project remain on schedule. The asbestos abatement must be done before most of the other work can proceed.

“Like similar projects across the city, the area will be cordoned off and student safety will be our highest priority,” Department of Education spokesperson Marge Feinberg told the New York Daily News. “Our work will be done after school when all students have left the building.”

The parents and DOE officials are expected to discuss the matter Thursday night at a previously-scheduled PTA meeting at the school. Parents were upset earlier that they were given only a few days warning that the abatement would begin.

“They had winter break, and spring break to do the demolition,” parent Denver Butson told the Daily News. “They have summer vacation coming up, and they’re going to do abatement while students are in school? This is insane.”

The issue of asbestos in schools has become a major topic of debate throughout America, particularly at a time when tax revenues have fallen and the cost of  operating schools has risen. It is an expensive undertaking.

Also this week, students at Larkin High School in Elgin, Illinois, were thrilled to learn that their last day of school would be June 1, instead of the previously planned June 4, because a renovation project that included asbestos abatement.

The asbestos was found as the district prepared to embark on an extensive $5.6 million renovation at Larkin. It involves replacing the school’s boilers, piping, and air handler units.


Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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