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Asbestos tests clear other schools in Ocean View district

Asbestos tests clear other schools in Ocean View district
Suzanne Berkers, a third-grade teacher at Oak View Elementary School, talks with students and parents last week on the day Ocean View School District started to bus students from that campus and two others to surrounding districts because of asbestos concerns. (Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot)

Asbestos testing has revealed that most of the campuses in a beleaguered Orange County school district pose no threat to students and will remain open.

Three elementary schools in the Huntington Beach school district, however, will remain closed for as long as two months while asbestos is removed from classrooms.

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The campuses were closed early this month when asbestos was detected in classrooms during a modernization project. The closures left parents furious and forced more than 1,600 students to be bused to classrooms in eight different school districts across Orange County.

But the coastal Ocean View School District had a shot of good news when recent tests showed that all but three campuses were deemed not to have an unsafe level of asbestos in classrooms.

Tests showed that most of the schools had an "insignificant" level of asbestos in the air and that, even in classrooms where trace levels of asbestos were found, measurements were far below federal standards for a hazard and would not pose a risk to staff or students.

Still, all the rooms were deep-cleaned Monday night, officials said.

"We can say with absolute certainty that every child attending our schools is studying in the cleanest and safest classroom possible," Supt. Gustavo Balderas said.

Asbestos is a mineral that was widely used as fireproofing in building projects until the 1970s. Though coming into contact with asbestos that hasn't been disturbed isn't harmful, it can become a hazard when the dust becomes airborne. Inhaling high levels of asbestos over a long period can cause cancer and other lung diseases, experts say.

When Hope View, Oak View and Lake View — the trio of elementary schools that remain closed — were built decades ago, asbestos was used as fireproofing on metal beams above the ceilings. Over time, asbestos dust began to fall from the beams and settle on classroom ceiling tiles, district records show.

The district brought in a panel of health experts last week to explain to parents the risks of asbestos exposure.

Dr. William Hughson said it's unlikely that children will become sick as a result of asbestos exposure at school.

The Ocean View School District has given 195 applications to families interested in transferring their children to other districts since news of the potential asbestos exposure broke in September, officials said.

Officials in the Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach school districts said they have received requests for transfers.

However, Ocean View has not received confirmation that all 195 students will transfer, district spokesman Tom DeLapp said.

"I think that many people are reserving judgment until they see how we sort this out over the next few days," DeLapp said.

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