Paul Rolly: Public exposure delays asbestos exposure at West

By PAUL ROLLY

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: May 16, 2014 04:54PM
Updated: May 16, 2014 06:59AM
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Paul Rolly

When teachers learned that the asbestos-laden tile on the third and fourth floors of West High would be removed this week and new tile laid, it raised an obvious question: Why not wait for summer vacation when the kids are gone?

After all, couldn’t disturbing the asbestos fibers and possibly sending them into the environment be potentially hazardous to students’ health?

Several parents I talked to had no idea this was the plan. The tile would be removed during the evening when school was out, but the students would be back the next morning. The project was scheduled to begin Monday and would take a week.

Teacher complaints about the project seemed not to be heeded. After I called the Salt Lake City School District, wondering what was the rush, and School Board member Michael Clara emailed Superintendent McKell Withers with the same question, officials decided to delay the removal until summer.

It had been determined that the project was not dangerous, but perhaps officials decided caution was the better approach.

Bob Ford, of the Utah Division of Air Quality, told me there are projects to remove asbestos from schools and other buildings throughout the summer. He said West’s removal had been scheduled for this week because it was a relatively small job that the contractors wanted to get out of the way before tackling larger projects this summer.

Asbestos remains in many schools and buildings throughout the Salt Lake Valley. At West, teachers say, a half dozen or more teachers on the fourth floor have gotten cancer in the past several years. Two have died.

The Salt Lake City School District commissioned an environmental inspection in 2009 because of the flurry of cancer cases among teachers. The study concluded there was no environmental issue at West that could be linked to cancer.

And the bat problem is gone. West lies in the migratory path of a certain species of bats that took up residence in the school’s ceiling.

Principal Parley Jacobs told me that a thorough sealing on the building’s exterior has kept out the bats the past couple of years. Now they hang out in the lighting structures at the football field.

Tech ties • House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, stirred up the legislative session this year with her $200 million proposal to provide all public school students with their own individual computer device to aid in their instruction.

That raised speculation that the tens of thousands of electronic devices that would be needed would help her husband, Stan Lockhart, who is a lobbyist for IM Flash Technologies, which manufactures and markets computer parts and has associations with larger computer makers.

Stan Lockhart also is a member of the governor’s STEM Action Center Board, which promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics education to prepare students for high-tech jobs.

There is no evidence that Lockhart’s proposal would have directly helped her husband or his company. But this probably doesn’t help the image: The Utah Taxpayers Association’s 2014 Utah Taxes Now Conference, which will be held Tuesday at the Grand America Hotel, includes a discussion about bringing technology into the classroom with one-to-one devices and the panelists are Becky Lockhart, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, and (drum roll, please) Stan Lockhart.

Creative writing • I couldn’t help but pass along this weather forecast from the Wednesday edition of the Dallas Morning News:

“Wednesday’s forecast: Today is NOT a real spring day. It is only getting up to 70. Do we really want to go back to the 70s? There’s a chance of morning showers — or is that just another empty promise? The wind is from the north at 17 mph. Like we need that much wind from Oklahoma, of all places. The only day in this race that is a true spring day and has the backing of grass-roots spring days across the state is Thursday: sunny with a high of 80 and light winds from west-southwest, a Lone Star State direction you can believe in. Thursday’s an honest, hardworking day that won’t take short cuts around the truth and wants what’s best for our children.

“I’m Thursday, running for best day of the week, and I approved this message.”

prolly@sltrib.com