A Baltimore firm had filed a $150,000 suit against the Prince George's County school board, accusing the board of discontinuing the removal of asbestos from several public schools because other jurisdictions in the Washington area failed to follow its lead.
Aquatel Industries, which specializes in asbestos removal, filed the suit in Prince George's County Circuit Court last week, seeking $150,000 for asbestos removal work it started early last fall, but was not allowed to complete.
The school board decided to initiate the program last year after several studies by the federal Environmental Protection Agency revealed that asbestos could cause lung disease and cancer.
Because 16 schools were identified as having asbestos in their ceilings as noise and fire retardants, the board authorized the start of an asbestos removal program during the summer.
Since few companies do this kind of work, the schools did not find a contractor until late summer. As a result, Aquatel, the firm finally hired, was not able to begin work until early September.
"We were really neophytes in this whole business," said Daniel Wagner, director of plant maintenance for the Prince George's County schools. "We didn't know that it would be so hard to find a contractor and that removing the stuff would be as dangerous if not more dangerous than leaving it in."
By December, Aquatel had removed the asbestos from four schools. It was then that school officials decided to discontinue the work, arguing that students might be adversely affected by asbestos particles floating in the air during removal work.
In its suit, Aquatel argues that the action was taken because no other jurisdictions in metropolitan Washington and few in the country were taking such health precautions.
School board attorney Paul Nussbaum has labeled the Aquatel charges "absurd" and argued that the work was discontinued to protect students.
County health officials say that while they believe the asbestos in the remaining eight schools should be removed, they think the work should probably be delayed until school is out.
Wagner says that the schools are presently considering such a course, and will probably make a decision sometime in the next few months.