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Asbestos removal at Midwest will not delay school’s reopening, district official says

March 15, 2017 GMT

A gas leak last spring and flooding discovered in late December have forced the Natrona County School District to change its timeline for removing asbestos at Midwest School, but officials say the work will be done this summer and will not delay the school’s reopening.

The district had originally planned on removing some of the asbestos from the building, in a process known as abatement, last summer. But in late May, students and staff detected an odor in Midwest that forced an evacuation. Subsequent testing revealed high levels of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and the school was closed indefinitely.

A state report released last year found that students and staff had headaches, sore throats and other symptoms prior to the school’s closure. The report said those symptoms were likely caused by the gas leak.

After the school’s closure, the asbestos removal project was postponed, said Dennis Bay, the Natrona County School District’s executive director of business services. The district had planned on removing asbestos first from Midwest’s kitchen and cafeteria. The removal of asbestos from the floor tiles in the high school wing of the building was likely to be done later, he said.

But after a pipe burst and caused about $250,000 in damage to the school’s high school wing in December, the district discovered that it would have to replace tiles in that area of the building. So officials decided to remove the asbestos tiles, folding that project in with the kitchen and cafeteria abatement.

On Monday night, the district’s school board approved a Cheyenne contractor’s bid to do the work. The removal process will cost more than $26,000 and will be paid through state funds, Bay said.

Currently, contractors are installing a radon-like mitigation system that will take air from beneath the school and pump it into the atmosphere over the building. The system should prevent future gas leaks, officials have said. After the system is installed, officials will test the air inside Midwest to ensure that it is safe.

The system is being paid for by FDL Energy, which operates the Salt Creek oilfield, which surrounds Midwest. Bay said the mitigation installation is going “very well.”

Should the tests show the air inside of Midwest is sufficiently clean, the asbestos removal will begin in early June and be completed in time for school to open next fall. Bay said custodians and faculty will be able to use parts of the building that are not part of the abatement process.

The abatement process involves the contractor using plastic to create a containment area, Bay said. Workers will don protective gear and begin removing the asbestos.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous substance that was often used in construction. However, asbestos can pose health risks to people who are exposed to it. For instance, it can cause mesothelioma. The use of asbestos has been banned in some cases and widely scaled back in most construction.

Bay said Midwest was constructed in the 1950s, and additional parts of the school have been built in the years since. Without consulting the district’s file on Midwest, he couldn’t say if there was asbestos in other parts of the building.