California Earthquake Releases Asbestos and Causes Schools to Close

Last Friday’s earthquake in California may have dislodged asbestos fibers from school buildings, and school officials are keeping schools closed to remain on the safe side.

The Effect on the Schools

The 5.1-magnitude earthquake affected many schools in California.

In the Brea-Olinda school district, many schools suffered significant damages from the quake.  An example of the type of damage suffered is the broken light fixtures, falling ceiling tiles, and scattered dust at Fanning Elementary School. Fanning Elementary serves 350 students in grades two through five.  All students in grades below second will return to Fanning on March 31 because they attend classes in pods separate from the main building, which is where the damage primarily occurred.  According to Brea-Olinda Superintendent Skip Roland, “As soon as the earthquake occurred we jumped into action and had to do an assessment of our facilities because the epicenter of the quake was relatively close to us.”

After studying the dust, Roland decided to close down Fanning Elementary because the study revealed asbestos particles that were part of the building materials.  The school was built in 1971, so it was already likely that building materials would contain asbestos.  Students at Fanning will be attending a nearby school in the neighborhood, Laurel Elementary School, for a minimum of a week while the asbestos cleanup efforts are taking place.  The cleanup could take up to six weeks or even longer.  Roland further commented that “In an abundance of caution, we will make sure the campus is completely safe from any asbestos contamination before allowing students and staff to return to the pods and main building.

Next Steps

L.A. Unified school district officials are already trying to devise a plan to assess and address the quake damage.  They are using a U.S. Geological Survey web-based program called Shakecast to project and estimate the potential quake damage at each of the district’s approximately 900 schools.  The program works by correlating the amount of force that was registered at a location to a school, and helps project the likelihood of damage.

The data will help school district officials prioritize which buildings to inspect with structural engineers.  For example, some of the schools that were at the top of the list underwent inspections where engineers discovered cracks in concrete columns and walls.

L.A. Unified’s director of Maintenance and Operations, Roger Finstad, sees the earthquake as a learning experience that can be used to develop his department’s experience and preparedness for future events.  “This being on a weekend, we needed to improve our communication process a little bit, just because it’s a little harder to reach people when they’re at home on the weekend and get them into action.

Exposed to asbestos?

Exposure to asbestos can lead to many serious health conditions, including lung cancer and mesothelioma.  If you believe that you have been exposed, you may be eligible for compensation.  Please contact an experienced asbestos lawyer today for a consultation.


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