A group of teenage students in Northeast Ohio thought they were volunteering their weekends for a noble cause, helping renovate the old building that is expected to become their new school.
They had no idea the risks they were taking.
The Buckeye Education School, a small religious-affiliated school in Middleburg Heights, is now under criminal investigation for exposing those teenagers to a variety of asbestos materials as they helped gut the former YWCA building that was purchased recently.
Exposure to asbestos, which later was found in the pipes, insulation, duct fabric and floor tiles that they carried to a nearby dumpster, can cause a variety of respiratory problems, including asbestosis and mesothelioma cancer. No amount of asbestos exposure is considered safe.
State regulations in Ohio require certified contractors to remove asbestos when a building is being renovated, restored or even demolished. Asbestos abatement is an expensive but necessary part of the process, particularly with older structures that were built during the height of the asbestos era.
According to television station WKYC, school officials were using the school volunteers in an effort to save money. The television station aired a video of the students taking out debris as the building was being gutted. One person was using a front-end loader, and a large cloud of dust engulfed those around the dumpster. That cloud likely included deadly asbestos fibers.
The video was taken by a neighbor of the former YWCA, which was purchased last summer with the intention of school expansion, according to the television station.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency began investigating the school last month. According to the report, regulators found three dumpsters filled with debris hauled from the building, most containing asbestos materials. Most of the inside walls and ceilings from the building had been torn out.
“The entire site was contaminated with asbestos and the people who were doing it were all children,” Darren Clink, the neighbor who shot the video, told WKYC. Clink said he is a licensed contractor who works in the asbestos-abatement field. “The kids were loaded with it.”
The Buckeye Education School is part of Sterling Education, which operates 35 religious-based schools across the country. Bruce Carmichael of Sterling told the television station recently that the school now has hired a certified asbestos abatement contractor. He would not comment when asked about the students previously doing the work.
Warning signs have been posted recently on the building of dangerous conditions.
Health inspectors in Ohio are recommending the students, and anyone else who was involved, to inform their family doctors, who can conduct respiratory testing and give them chest X-rays to help predict possible problems in the future.
One problem with asbestos inhalation is that it can take decades before problems become apparent. The microscopic asbestos fibers can get lodged in the lining around the lung and cause scaring that could lead to mesothelioma.