Monday, January 27, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: Schuster Sits on Asbestos Discovery at Hinsdale Middle School

Shortly before 5 p.m. Dr. Schuster sent her "daily update" out to the D181 community.  It disclosed for the first time that on January 21, asbestos was discovered in tiles at Hinsdale Middle School that were broken during the mold remediation process.  Let us first state that it appears that the asbestos HAS BEEN COMPLETELY CONTAINED and CLEANED UP. If we are to believe Dr. Schuster's email -- and for the sake of our students and HMS staff we hope we can -- there is no reason to be concerned that students or staff have been or will be exposed to asbestos.

In addition, Dr. Schuster disclosed that as a result of the broken tiles and resulting cleanup and testing, the District discovered that it did not comply with an Asbestos Management Plan, that required a "basic checklist" to be completed every six months, with a report being filed with the Illinois Department of Public Health.  The checklist that should have been completed in May 2013 was skipped and has now been scheduled for January 28.

While we are relieved -- again assuming that what Dr. Schuster is telling us about the safety in the building as it relates to the asbestos is true -- that our students and staff have not and will not be exposed to asbestos, we are extremely concerned that:

  1.  Dr. Schuster did not mention the discovery of possible asbestos during the January 21, 2013 emergency board meeting.  Why didn't she?  The board should demand an explanation at tonight's meeting.
  2. Dr. Schuster has known about this information for seven days.  Not until two hours before tonight's board meeting did she disclose this to the public.  
  3. At the January 20, 2013 emergency board meeting, Member Clarin directed Dr. Schuster to provide the community with daily updates.  We would assume that Mr. Clarin would expect Dr. Schuster to actually be complete and transparent in these updates and not pick and choose what to tell the community.
  4. Why was the May 2013 "basic checklist" required by the Asbestos Management Plan skipped? Why wasn't this discovered until 8 months later and only in the midst of the mold crisis at HMS?
We are most concerned about #4 above because it is yet another example of how the administration is not minding the ship.  This is not a Board issue, it is a Dr. Schuster issue. Many times in the past four years, she has reminded the board that it is not their job to micro-manage and that it is her job to oversee the day to day workings of the district.  It is her job to hire and hold her staff accountable. It is the board's job to hire her and hold her accountable.  So whose fault is it that a basic, day to day, environmental safey check that was intended to ensure the health and safety of students and staff in a D181 building was not just skipped but completely overlooked until now?

We believe it is Dr. Schuster's fault for not properly overseeing the department responsible for maintaining buildings and grounds.  Not too long ago, Sue Kamuda, the Director of Buildings and Grounds retired.  When she did, rather than name another director, that department was rolled into the Business Department at Dr. Schuster's recommendation. Obviously that was a mistake.  Having made that mistake, her next mistake was not properly reviewing the work being done by the staff in that department and making sure that they were doing their job -- every aspect of it.

Now, the Board must hold Dr. Schuster accountable.

How many environmental facilities and health concerns, and now safety checks, must be ignored before the Board realizes that the captain of the ship is causing it to capsize?  It's time for real accountability by the majority of the Board.  We hope the Board does not allow Dr. Schuster to make excuses, or blame her staff for what she is ultimately responsible for. That would be a "short-sighted" solution that will not fix the bigger, long term problem facing D181.

Dr. Schuster's Email:

"Dear District 181 Community,

This message is to update families on the progress at Hinsdale Middle School and notify HMS families and staff of new information related to the facility.

Progress at the building is continuing well, with ductwork cleaning slated to begin tomorrow. Special equipment is being brought in to heat the building while the HVAC is turned off for the cleaning. The HMS Open House is still tentatively planned for Sunday, February 2 from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. We will confirm the date and time no later than Friday and notify families and staff via email and a notice on theFacility Updates webpage.

Also, we want to ensure families and staff are notified of new information we have learned regarding the HMS facility.

In the efforts to immediately address water damage at HMS, the first remediation company hired by the District worked throughout the affected areas of the building to soak up water and remove items that had been water damaged. The first floor music room (Room 124) was among the more affected classrooms due to water coming in from the ceiling, as a pipe had burst in the science classroom directly above.

The risers in the music room were constructed with wood framing and plywood platforms covered by vinyl tiles. The risers were water damaged and therefore disassembled and removed from the room in sections by the remediation company on January 7 with the floor tile in tact. During this disassembly and removal, a small number of the tiles were broken. A concern was reported to the administration on January 21 that the tiles may have contained asbestos. It was confirmed to exist in very low percentages by reviewing the District’s asbestos management plan and by additional material sample testing.

Asbestos was once a commonly used building material; it was later found to cause serious health effects. Asbestos is harmful only if the fibers contained in the materials become airborne and typically after extended exposure or very high levels of exposure. Fortunately, the manner in which the restoration company cleaned the music room because of water damage was very consistent with the work of an asbestos abatement contractor. Water damaged materials were removed from the room and the building, then the company conducted cleaning, wet-wiping, and HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) Filter vacuuming before students and staff returned on January 8.

Following the report of possible asbestos to administration on January 21, and upon consultation with the Illinois Department of Public Health, Integrity Environmental Services conducted aggressive air sampling in Room 124, Room 126 and adjacent areas to determine if there were any asbestos fibers in the air. Testing has confirmed zero (0) traces of asbestos fibers were found in the 13 TEM (Transmission Electron Microscopy) air samples. It is believed any possible asbestos fiber release had been contained due to the wetness from the water damage, the small amount of asbestos in the materials (1%-2%), and the fact that the fibers are embedded in the material matrix, preventing them from being disturbed, even when a tile is cracked. It is extremely unlikely that any students or staff would have been exposed to airborne asbestos, and the testing by Integrity Environmental Services shows no reason to be concerned about asbestos exposure.

As part of the District’s asbestos management plan, asbestos checks are completed every three years in a comprehensive manner, and a basic checklist is to be completed every six months. The checks are completed by a third party service, and reports are kept on file with the Illinois Department of Public Health. The District completed the three-year review for Hinsdale Middle School in November 2012 and was fully compliant. The six-month checklist was not completed in May 2013; it has been scheduled for January 28. We are concerned about the missed asbestos check and the failure to report any related concerns in a timely manner. This is being addressed with District staff.

The music room has been cleaned twice already by SERVPRO in addition to the initial contractor’s cleaning, and it will be cleaned again before the school is reopened. The risers will be replaced later this school year.

The report from Integrity Environmental Services is available to download on the HMS Facility Updates webpage. Also, a representative from Integrity is providing a report to the Board at the meeting this evening.

If you have any questions, I welcome your call or email.


Dr. Renée Schuster

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