Environmental Insurance Spotlight: School Districts

Many school districts are self-contained communities, with operations and buildings that can span a large area. They may house classrooms as well as facilities such as laboratories, cafeterias/food service, bus parking lots/garages, sports stadiums, gardens, swimming pools, administrative office buildings, and newspaper/printing operations. In addition, their maintenance facilities may include power generation and wastewater treatment plants.

The age, activities, and locations where these facilities are situated can lead to environmental exposures that may not be uncovered until they are undergoing redevelopment or renovation activities, or a claim is made against the school district. Many older buildings may have been constructed prior to the development of hazardous materials handling procedures, therefore laboratory drains may still have traces of hazardous materials, bus parking lots may have previous contamination, or asbestos and/or mold may be found on the properties. These are just a few examples of issues that can be present in wide range of structures within a school district.

Additionally, with legionella, mold, and other indoor air quality issues affecting so many school districts around the country, parents, teachers, and administrators are well aware of the public response to health concerns these exposures may cause. Request more information on exposures for school districts.

Environmental Claims/Lawsuits Involving School Districts

A state Department of Environmental Protection issued a fine to a Board of Education Superintendent alleging violations of its water pollution control permit during construction of an elementary school. The superintendent has signed a proposed settlement of an administrative consent order that would require the board to pay the state Department of Environmental Protection a $16,830 fine. According to the proposed settlement, department personnel observed numerous deficiencies during an inspection of the construction site, including a failure by the board to modify its approved Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan when there was a change in the project. The approved plan does not include a land disturbance on the east side of the construction entrance, the department alleged.

Teachers and students filed a suit against their High School District, various contractors, and the architect of the school. The suit alleges construction defects, faulty design of the ventilation system and faulty design of the windows let to toxic mold in the building and resulting to adverse health effects.

A school district had been disposing of laboratory waste in a 20,000 gallon underground storage tank for years. The tank eventually ruptured and contaminated the surrounding soil and groundwater. The chemicals from the tank found their way into local drinking water wells and a nearby reservoir. Third parties sued the university and claims were over $400,000. The costs to clean up the reservoir exceeded $1,000,000.

A school district received complaints from students and staff with respect to a musty odor coming from the basement of one of the classroom buildings. It was discovered that a walkway that was sloped down caused rainwater to leak into a service entrance. The moisture accumulation combined with a lack of proper ventilation caused extensive mold contamination in the building which needed to be remediated.

A group of students were conducting laboratory experiments under a laboratory hood that had been in place for years. The hood filters failed and released toxic fumes into the community. A number of residents from surrounding homes had to be evacuated and taken to the hospital. The school district was sued by some of the surrounding residents as well as local businesses. Fines were over $200,000.

For more complete information on exposures, and examples of on-going news stories involving school districts, please contact us.