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Williamsburg-James City County school officials say no health risk remains at Berkeley Middle School after two rooms containing exposed asbestos-contaminated insulation were identified and cleaned.
WJCC School Division spokeswoman Betsy Overkamp-Smith said on Oct. 29 a teacher reported debris in Room 136, a small classroom that holds no more than 10 students at a time.
Operations staff found a small crack behind a cabinet and determined the insulation visible within it contained asbestos.
In a letter sent home with students Monday afternoon, Berkeley Principal Amour Mickel wrote the room was closed to students and staff and, on Oct. 31, a licensed asbestos removal and abatement contractor thoroughly cleaned the space and sealed the crack.
Overkamp-Smith said operations staff inspected the entire school during the abatement and found a hole at the bottom of a wall in a storage room where insulation was visible. The contractor cleaned the storage room as well and disposed of stored items that could not be cleaned, Mickel wrote.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cautions that asbestos-contaminated materials can cause health problems if the material fibers are exposed and inhaled. Intact and undisturbed materials, however, do not pose a health risk, according to the EPA.
Air tests following the abatement found that air in both rooms contained no hazardous materials, Overkamp-Smith said. The rooms were reopened Monday.
Overkamp-Smith said the middle school was built in the 1960s, a time when vermiculite insulation was commonly used, but the school division did not know the insulation was contaminated because the walls had not been previously disturbed.
“Operations staff knew it was a possibility but did not know for sure until this incident,” Overkamp-Smith said.
She said the school is inspected every three years for asbestos as required by the school division’s Asbestos Management Plan. During the most recent triennial inspection, which took place in June, no insulation was visible and asbestos was not found, Overkamp-Smith said.
To learn more about asbestos risks and abatement, visit the EPA’s asbestos website. Families who are concerned about health risks due to asbestos exposure are encouraged to contact their family physician.