Asbestos scare: Huntington Beach elementary school closed indefinitely

An asbestos scare has forced the indefinite closure of a Huntington Beach grade school and an examination of every campus in the district, leaving parents frustrated and some unsure where their children will go to school.

School officials estimated that Lake View Elementary will be closed five to 10 weeks as asbestos is removed from classrooms.

The campus is one of three schools in the Ocean View School District that had been closed this week because of asbestos concerns. District Supt. Gustavo Balderas’ decision to close Lake View indefinitely comes on the heels of test results that showed widespread asbestos in several classrooms.


Parents of Lake View students said they are waiting for the district to come up with an alternate school site for their children.

“The district is currently drafting its plan going forward,” Ocean View spokesman Bruce Auld wrote in an email Thursday. He said it would likely be posted on the district’s website and Facebook account sometime late Friday.

The district declined to state how many Lake View classrooms have been affected by the asbestos, but officials said they would notify teachers.

Lake View Elementary has a large number of English as a Second Language students and low-income families, many of whom receive free or reduced-price meals at school, according to data collected by the California Department of Education.

District trustees voted during a special meeting Tuesday night to close Lake View, Hope View and Oak View elementary schools for the week, while classrooms could be cleaned and tested to make sure they were free of potentially carcinogenic asbestos dust. Only Lake View has been indefinitely closed.

Ocean View officials have said they were aware that asbestos has been in their schools for decades. However, parents became upset when they learned the district may have been removing the material as part of a large-scale modernization project while students were present.

Parent Michelle Morales has kept her two children home from school since news of the asbestos issue broke last week.

“I’m not against modernization,” she said. “I’m against the way it was handled. The district isn’t giving us a whole lot of answers.”

In response to mounting concerns from parents, the district hired Sierra Environmental Consulting to test the air and surfaces at Oak View, Lake View and Hope View for asbestos last weekend.

Of the 56 wipe samples collected at Hope View, one sample taken in Classroom 6 contained a single asbestos fiber. It was collected under a tile that appeared to have been drilled into in order to run television wires into the classroom, said Cary Ruben, a certified industrial hygienist.

Test results from Oak View came back inconclusive, officials said.

The district said it will test for asbestos during the next several weeks at all 11 schools in the district where construction has taken place.

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that until the 1970s was widely used in building products and insulation materials. The fibers can be released into the air during demolition work, repairs and remodeling, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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

Though coming into contact with asbestos that hasn’t been disturbed isn’t harmful, it becomes a hazard when the dust becomes airborne, said Steven Viani, a registered civil engineer and engineering contractor with experience in asbestos and other hazardous materials.

“The classical theory is pretty much that a single asbestos fiber is enough to cause harm,” Viani said. “There’s really no safe level of exposure.”

Teachers have expressed concern that they weren’t notified about the asbestos above the tiles and said the district should have placed signs restricting access to limit the risk of the dust becoming airborne.

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