A Principal's Hands-On Approach to Asbestos

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When Patricia Cook wanted to find the consultants who could help her school comply with the new federal asbestos law, she looked no further than her own office.

The principal of a small independent school in Pueblo, Colo., Ms. Cook took the highly unusual step of enrolling in five asbestos-consultant courses accredited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency--and then removed the hazardous material herself.

In the process, she saved the McClelland Center, a prekindergarten-through-grade-5 school serving fewer than 200 students, at least $20,000 in professional removal fees.

'Very Challenging'

But while school finances played a key role in her decision to undertake the task, the 31-year-old educator also supplies another motive. ''I like challenges," she says simply, "and this was very challenging."

In addition to high costs, school officials nationwide have had to contend with a shortage of epa-approved consultants as they try to meet the asbestos law's Oct. 12 deadline for inspections and the submission of management plans to state authorities. (See related story on next page.)

Ms. Cook's "do-it-yourself" solution means she will not have to ask Colorado officials for a deadline extension. Such requests were autho4rized by the Congress this summer in legislation acknowledging the worker shortages in the field and providing for a May 1989 deadline under certain conditions.

The Colorado principal says she first thought of enrolling herself and Abel Chavez, the school's janitor, in the courses after several consulting firms submitted bids ranging from $30,000 to $35,000 to remove the school's friable, or crumbling, asbestos.

Hiring an inspector and management planner would have cost an additional $5,000 to $7,000, Ms. Cook estimates.

Much Study, Much Labor

Over the summer, she spent 11 days in epa-approved classes gaining credentials that qualify her as a building inspector, a management planner, a 16-hour asbestos worker, an abatement worker, and an asbestos contractor-supervisor. The janitor completed the two asbestos-worker courses.

All but the contractor-supervisor class were offered free of charge by the Colorado Department of Public Health. Ms. Cook paid a private, accredited firm for the supervisor coursework.

While other principals and superintendents took some of the courses with her, Ms. Cook says, none were enrolled in the asbestos-worker classes.

Hence, none did their own removal--a process that engaged the McClellan principal and janitor for six 16-hour days last month.

Though she describes herself as "somewhat athletic," Ms Cook says that a prework physical was needed to determine whether she and the janitor would be able to use the required respirators during their abatement work. They also had to wear a suit of protective clothing and rent a special vacuum cleaner equipped with the filters required for suctioning the potentially lethal asbestos fibers.

'Hazardous Job'

The two removed 175 linear feet of asbestos from pipes in the school and more from a water-storage tank.

They bagged the hazardous material, put it into 13 55-gallon containers, and then hauled the containers to a landfill in Denver.

The total cost to the school, including equipment purchases and rentals and overtime pay for the janitor, came to $10,500.

Since their home-grown removal activities have become known, both Ms. Cook and the janitor have turned down offers to do asbestos work elsewhere.

"It's a very hazardous job," the principal says, "and not something you want to go through on a long-term basis."

Vol. 09, Issue 04

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