St. Michael School delays opening during asbestos clean-up

As central Ohio children are going school shopping in anticipation of that first day in a couple of weeks, students of one private school in Worthington just learned that their summer will last an extra month.

The 2017-18 school year for St. Michael School will now begin Sept. 22, the principal informed parents Thursday night, because damage to a tile floor released asbestos dust, a known cancer-causing material.

The late start caused by the clean-up, decontamination and re-testing has led the Catholic school to eliminate all unnecessary school breaks and to extend the school year to June 15. All teacher professional development days, the email from Sister John Paul said, have been moved to days before and after the school year.

“I realize this is quite an adjustment for all of us and that it may require a great deal of human and supernatural virtue to adapt to this later date,” wrote Sister John Paul. “St. Michael greatly appreciates the sacrifices of our parents to support Catholic education, and we realize that this may bring you added inconveniences.”

In a message Friday morning, the principal added that the school will work with parents in a financial bind because of the unexpected child-care costs.

Right now, the entire school is being cleaned, and the floor and ceiling tiles and other materials are being removed and replaced. Insurance is covering the project.

The Ohio Department of Health is aware of the situation at St. Michael and has a licensed asbestos contractor at the school to make sure the work is done correctly, said department spokeswoman Melanie Amato. She didn’t have an estimated ending date for the project.

Options other than a late start were considered, Sister John Paul told parents, including starting school at a temporary site.

“We have decided against that choice in order to best focus time and resources on getting the whole school operational faster,” she said.

According to several messages the principal sent to parents in the past month, minor damage to the tile happened as workers were stripping and waxing the floors, an annual chore. It happened after 3:30 p.m. on June 28, after office hours. Tests done on the floor dust indicated the presence of asbestos. The school building was closed July 1-7.

The principal said the people who accessed the building using their key cards between June 28 and July 7 already have been mailed a letter about the risk.

“I thank God that this did not happen while school was in session, and we are confident that the end result will be a thoroughly safe environment,” Sister John Paul wrote to parents.

Asbestos, now closely regulated as a carcinogen, refers to a group of naturally occurring minerals that routinely were used in automotive and ship parts and construction materials through the first half of the 20th century because of their ability to resist heat and corrosion.

The presence of asbestos in a building is not a problem until it is damaged or begins to deteriorate, according to information provided by the Ohio Department of Health.

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, breathing in asbestos fibers can lead to scarring in the lung tissue called asbestosis, which eventually causes disability and death. It also has been tied to lung cancer and a cancer of the membrane lining the cavity of the lung or stomach called mesothelioma.

“There is no ‘safe’ level of asbestos exposure for any type of asbestos fiber,” the OSHA website reads. “Asbestos exposures as short in duration as a few days have caused mesothelioma in humans.”


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