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May 29, 2012

School rids itself of asbestos problem

For several years, families of students at the Saint Peter Claver School have been complaining about the health risks associated with asbestos roofing on a number of school buildings. In recent days, several of the buildings were torn down and the students have been relocated. While the problem is finally being addressed, the temporary closure is affecting the school calendar. News Five’s Isani Cayetano was in Punta Gorda.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The campus here at St. Peter Claver School in Punta Gorda Town has, for the past week, remained a virtual ghost town as faculty, staff and students have all abandoned this location where several dilapidated buildings are currently being demolished.  It is the center of activity for an ongoing project to rid the grounds of classrooms with asbestos roofing.

 

Cindy Martinez-Bochub

Cindy Martinez-Bochub, Acting Principal, St. Peter Claver School

“Last year we had to evacuate these buildings and we temporarily used the S.B. Daniels Building to house our students because we got a mandate from parents that they no longer wanted their children in those rooms.”

 

The structures, built decades ago, were sealed with a fibrous, heat resistant material used commercially for its durable physical properties.  Asbestos, a naturally occurring silicate mineral, is also unsafe.  For years, teachers and students have complained of respiratory and cutaneous complications as a result of prolonged exposure.

 

Omar Requeña

Omar Requeña, Std. 6 Teacher [File: April 13th, 2010]

“This has been a problem from a long time ago but no one has actually set foot on it and tried to do something about it. Over the past couple months with this dry weather and now rain coming, the flakes of the roof is coming down and actually you can see the sediments on the floor and this real hazardous to our children so we can’t go in there.”

 

That was a little over two years ago.  Today, the compound resembles Chernobyl, a desolate Ukrainian city forsaken in the aftermath of the 1986 nuclear disaster.  The only toxic substance here, however, are the remains of asbestos shards that have been carefully removed from three classroom buildings.

 

Joseph Cayetano, Assistant Local Mgr., Toledo Catholic Schools

“They have removed as, you can see, they have removed all the asbestos from the campus and presently they are, they have started to remodel, refurbish, reconstruct a pre-school for St. Peter Claver School.”

 

Prior to the demolition project, temporary classrooms had been transported from Dangriga Town and reassembled on the school grounds; however, they would soon find out that there was insufficient space to house the displaced students.

 

Cindy Martinez-Bochub

“Our experience was that we had to return back, and in returning back, me, along with my other standard six co-workers, had to clean out these buildings to put our children back into them and whilst cleaning, at the end, I guess I was pregnant at that time and when I came out I was physically sick.  We were sneezing.  We had allergic reactions because the asbestos was beginning to shed and so the flakes off it really made us sick.”

 

It is uncertain whether or not former students who attended St. Peter Claver throughout its nine grades have developed mesothelioma or other acute respiratory problems.  According to Joseph Cayetano, no such cases have been identified as yet.

 

Joseph Cayetano

Joseph Cayetano

“Thank heavens nothing has happened, nothing can be identified as such at the present moment; however, the management has been very, very careful.  The asbestos situation was beginning to disintegrate and as it disintegrates well, it becomes more and more hazardous, okay.  Asbestos is only hazardous when it starts, when it becomes airborne and then people would inhale it and that type of thing.”

 

While classes have been suspended to prevent students from inhaling the noxious clouds during the destruction process, plans are in place to compensate for the loss of days on the academic calendar.  The timing, needless to say, was inopportune.

 

Joseph Cayetano

“Instead of the regular eight-thirty to eleven-thirty hours, they will extend the hours slightly from eight to twelve [noon] and from one to three-thirty for three weeks and that will satisfy for the three days that we were absent.”

 

Additionally, the management of the school is seeking funding from the Social Investment Fund to reconstruct two of the flattened classroom buildings. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

 

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1 Response for “School rids itself of asbestos problem”

  1. rose says:

    instead of wasting all that cash on an unfinish fence this is where the money should have been invested. Open ur eyes prime minister Belize needs the help!!!

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