CAMDEN, NJ — A Camden school parent was caught off guard recently when, upon driving by Forest Hill Elementary School, a sign advertised the presence of asbestos on campus. 

Calls to the school district assured them that no one was exposed to the potentially hazardous material as the work was being done over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

But Tuesday, Camden Superintendent of Schools Katrina McCombs acknowledged that the district could have done a better job of communicating the abatement with parents and staff. 

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“Although all the work was conducted according to local, state and federal regulations, there was a breakdown in communication between our construction management firm and the district,” McCombs said during the Board of Education meeting at Thomas H. Dudley Elementary School Tuesday night. “The district will take steps to prevent breakdown in communication [in the future], particularly around activities such as these. It is very important to me...that everyone feels safe and comfortable in a working environment.”

Materials containing asbestos, considered a “naturally occurring mineral,” are common in older buildings constructed during the 1940s and 70s — a time when said materials were considered attractive for their strength and heat resistance. Asbestos is often found near boilers and roofing products. 

The fibers in asbestos are resistant to electricity and corrosion — however said durability makes exposure to it highly-toxic.

According to The Mesothelioma Center, trapped asbestos fibers can cause inflammation, scarring, and long term genetic damage to the body’s cells. Moreover, it can cause “a rare and aggressive cancer called mesothelioma, which is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure...other forms of cancer [and] progressive lung disease.”

The work at Forest Hill Elementary was being done as part of an FDA-funded project, according to the superintendent.

Alisha Brown, the spokesperson for the Camden school district, told TAPinto Camden that the school has ongoing construction and the vendor’s request for access was filed among others and thus not addressed in a more timely fashion.

“The parent didn’t know it was happening that particular day, and had we known that the work was taking place that weekend we would have gotten the word out,” said Brown.

Forest Hill Elementary Principal Fatihah Abdur-Rahman did not comment on the matter.

“Principal [Abdur-Rahman] found out at the same time we did...when the parent drove by,” added Brown. 

The work was ultimately completed on Jan. 18.

Everyone impacted, including faculty and staff, was notified by the time children returned to school on Jan 21, school officials said.

McCombs said that the total area, that was tested positive for asbestos, was seven square feet. However, she assured members of the public that results guaranteeing the safety of the impacted area were confirmed Sunday, Jan 19, “well before students and staff returned.”

“I know there were some concerns and rightfully so,” said McCombs. “I'm a parent...and if I saw a sign that I was not aware of by school district officials or the principal of the building because she was not aware either, I would have a concern as well.”