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Asbestos found at another Ann Arbor school, MIOSHA now investigating

Posted at 5:04 PM, Sep 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-28 17:30:16-04

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) — The 7 Investigators were the first to expose allegations of asbestos found inside some Ann Arbor elementary schools.

Local contractor blows whistle on alleged asbestos issue at Ann Arbor elementary schools

Now more of the cancer-causing material has been discovered inside a high school, and state inspectors were on the scene Tuesday to find out if workers and kids have been exposed.

7 Investigator Heather Catallo has been keeping a close eye on that high school and on the state investigation into the asbestos discoveries, and 7 Action News cameras were rolling as MIOSHA inspectors arrived at the school.

Inside Community High School in Ann Arbor, you can see dust-covered hallways, dusty display cases, and even construction debris covering office supplies. This is one of several Ann Arbor schools that have been under construction since last spring and now there are concerns that asbestos may have been disturbed during the demolition.

Asbestos is a cancer-causing mineral that was once used in everything from insulation to ceiling tiles.

“You would not want the public breathing it in, definitely not children,” said Dr. Sarah Surber, an assistant professor of public health at Wayne State University during a previous interview about the dangers of asbestos.

On Tuesday inspectors from Michigan’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or MIOSHA, made a surprise visit to Community High School.

And this isn’t the only Ann Arbor building that’s been under scrutiny by the state. MIOSHA has also been investigating allegations of asbestos being disturbed at two elementary schools.

Last month, a contractor blew the whistle on that, telling the 7 Investigators he did not think students would be safe unless the asbestos was properly remediated.

We did not use his name or show you his face in order to protect his job, but he wanted parents to know what happened during that construction inside Angell Elementary School and Burns Park Elementary.

“It’s on the lunch trays. It’s everywhere. It disperses like flour, and it lands on surfaces and it stays there until someone turns on a desk fan, and now it’s in the air again,” said the contractor, who also said he was exposed.

“I drilled hundreds of holes upside down into a ceiling with powder falling directly onto me. So yeah, I was exposed a lot,” said the contractor.

Tests in November and July showed asbestos-containing materials were found inside the two elementary schools.

After our first story aired in late August, Ann Arbor school officials started testing for asbestos again at those buildings. They also conducted tests at Community High School, which has been undergoing demolition since last spring when some students were still in class.

After the August asbestos tests-- the schools were given the all-clear with no asbestos found on the items tested.

But sources tell the 7 Investigators that a teacher inside Community High School did an independent test that was positive for asbestos. That prompted another round of district testing inside the high school on September 16th which revealed asbestos inside a storage room that’s part of a science classroom on the third floor.

Some parents we spoke to say they’re concerned about their students' health and others told us they’re confident the school will keep them safe.

“It is a little concerning but I trust that they will take care of it and wouldn’t deceive us- hopefully,” said parent Tamara Lawler.

AAPS Spokesman Andrew Cluely sent us this statement:

In the Ann Arbor Public Schools we hold the health and safety of our students, staff, and community as our top priority. The AAPS has successfully managed construction projects across the school district and when appropriate, worked in the past with MIOSHA to ensure the health and safety of students and staff and will continue to do so.

As a reminder, in preparation for all construction projects, environmental assessments are completed including testing for asbestos-containing materials (ACM) in areas that may be disturbed during construction. During and following all construction projects, our contractors are held to the highest standards of construction management, safety guidelines, testing, and cleaning. Post-abatement occupancy of a building by staff and students is always conditional on final approvals by an independent and accredited environmental firm.

When AAPS was informed of the potential concern the district immediately began taking the appropriate follow-up steps to ensure health and safety.

We appreciate anytime we hear concerns so that we can effectively take the steps necessary to resolve the issue. We urge all who may have any concerns at any time related to health and safety, or construction cleaning and testing, to communicate directly with school administrators or with the AAPS facilities administrators. We remain committed to the highest standards related to health and safety; it is our expectation that all contractors meet or exceed these high expectations and comply with industry standards.

When asked when the district will be removing the asbestos-containing materials from Community High School, Cluely said they are consulting with environmental professionals on how to remove it safely.

If you have a story for Heather, please email her at hcatallo@wxyz.com.