School District Fined Over Staff Working Amid Asbestos

Asbestos Exposure & Bans

An Iowa school district is facing thousands of dollars in fines for having employees work inside an asbestos-contaminated building. Newly released state records show the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the North Linn Community School District $70,000. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources also fined the district an additional $6,000.

The records show the incident happened during renovations at a middle and high school complex in August 2022 near Coggon Iowa, about 30 miles north of Cedar Rapids. A worker found asbestos vinyl flooring tile when removing old carpeting. He’d reported the asbestos vinyl, but instead of having it removed, OSHA records show the school district did nothing. 

Months later, a worker was using a floor buffer to remove old glue from the floor. That’s when another worker noted the buffing could propel dangerous fibers from the asbestos vinyl tiles into the air. Soon after, someone alerted the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 

Tests confirm the room was contaminated with asbestos. There was also widespread asbestos contamination in several other rooms. 

“Employees were potentially exposed to asbestos fibers in the air when performing daily tasks,” according to Iowa OSHA documents the Iowa Capital Dispatch obtained.

Asbestos Contamination

Following the contamination, at least 10 people working on the renovation project signed a waiver of liability to continue working which read: “I understand the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is recommending I do not work in this area due to the possibility of contaminated air with asbestos fibers. I am choosing to disregard the recommendation and continue working.”

At least 10 others didn’t sign waivers and may not have been aware of the asbestos contamination according to the DNR. OSHA believes around 20 school employees may have been exposed to asbestos. The agency later called the exposure “limited.”

One day after the contamination, asbestos investigators with the DNR evacuated and locked the building, then the school district hired a company to fully remove the asbestos. About 2 weeks later classes resumed at the school. 

Renovation Companies Fined

OSHA records show that both companies behind the renovation work at the school were also fined. OSHA originally fined Tricon General Construction and SitelogIQ each about $99,000. The companies appealed and wound up paying $10,000 each. The DNR also fined SitelogIQ for $6,000 and Tricon for $3,000.

In addition to paying the fine, the North Linn Community School District also agreed to comply with asbestos rules in the future. The district never admitted fault and denied it had “any responsibility or obligations relating to the renovations project relative to the alleged violations.”

Asbestos in Schools

Asbestos exposure in schools has been an issue for many years. About 50% of schools in the U.S. constructed between 1950 and 1969 contain asbestos. The material was popular for its resistance to fire and high durability, but its use began to be phased out in the 1980s. 

Recently, 3 educators filed a federal lawsuit against the School District of Philadelphia over the right to protest asbestos hazards in classrooms. The educators held a protest after asbestos,the primary cause of mesothelioma, was discovered at 11 Philadelphia schools. In total 6 Philadelphia area schools were forced to temporarily close in 2023 because of asbestos. In addition to causing mesothelioma, breathing in asbestos fibers can also cause lung cancer, asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases. The fibers can become trapped in the lungs and cause scarring, inflammation and respiratory issues later in life. Some symptoms of asbestos-related diseases may not even become evident until 20 to 60 years after exposure.

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