This case involves several school children who were playing outside a school on the sidewalk. The children discovered a white chalky material that the children assumed was chalk. The children were using the material to draw on the sidewalk. The material actually was the residue of debris from discarded asbestos insulation. The previous evening, the janitorial staff had removed hot water pipes from an underground tunnel at the school, including the asbestos insulation. As the janitorial staff removed the asbestos, it spread all over the sidewalk. The school had been closed for the weekend after the removal and the next week, school officials hired a contractor to clean up the asbestos. The children’s parents brought suit against the school for creating a severe environmental risk and hired a toxicologist to opine on the risk of exposure to asbestos.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. If a child mistakes asbestos for chalk and begins playing with the asbestos, does this expose the child to a health danger?
- 2. Is the school liable for improperly disposing of hazardous material?
Expert Witness Response
Asbestos is so dangerous that there have been very strict rules, regulations, and laws enacted that deal with material handling. Asbestos is very dangerous to people because any contact with the material can cause malignant mesothelioma. This is a deadly type of cancer that has killed many people who were exposed to asbestos. Asbestos can be found in thousands of schools and is most commonly found in schools in such materials as cement products, fire-proofing textiles, wallboard, ceiling tile, thermal insulation, and other building materials. Asbestos was widely used in the past because it had great fire-resistant qualities. When a child is exposed to asbestos at a school, it can take decades for mesothelioma to develop. Mesothelioma can develop if a child is exposed to asbestos and invisible particles from the asbestos lodge in the linings of the child’s lungs, heart or abdominal organs and then later generate cancerous cells that form tumors. The most dangerous type of exposure to asbestos is when someone is exposed to the material in a closed environment for long periods of time. In this case, the children who were playing with the asbestos would probably have to see a physician to determine the exact risk level of mesothelioma that they exposed to. A danger is that the children might suffer respiratory problems later in life due to their exposure to the asbestos. It is possible that the children in this case might be at risk of developing asbestosis later. Asbestosis is a breathing disorder that a person can get if they inhale asbestos fibers. Inhaling the asbestos fibers can cause an accumulation of the fibers in the lungs and can cause scarring and shortness of breath later on. The school should have strict policies in place with regards to disposing of hazardous materials such as asbestos. School’s are required to exercise increased caution, given the high population of children. In this case, the school is probably liable for improperly removing the asbestos.