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Asbestos in the walls of the old Franklin Elementary School stopped the contractor short, but it won't shut down the demolition project for long.

In fact, Jim Libberton of JKL Asbestos Inc., asbestos consultant to the Provo School District, said it's to the contractor's credit that he had the good sense to recognize the asbestos problem - minor though it may be - and stop the work immediately.Asbestos becomes a problem when it's released wholesale into the air or breathed consistently by someone exposed to the product, Libberton said.

"Most of us don't realize that according to the EPA, there's asbestos in three-quarters of our drinking water and in much of the air we breathe," he said. "It takes a major exposure to become a real problem. If it didn't, we'd all be dead."

At Franklin, the problem came wrapped or lined around pipes that fed radiators in the four large rooms on the second floor of the northern addition.

"Someone decided, for some reason, to wrap asbestos around those pipes, probably to insulate them," Libberton said. "There was no reason to suspect they would have done that."

So although Libberton conducted an extensive search for asbestos problems before the demolition began on the 1910 structure, he did not find the asbestos around the pipes.

It wasn't until crews began knocking down the walls Tuesday that it became visible, showing up wrapped around the 4 feet of pipe under the floors on either side of the radiators.

"It looks like gray cardboard, corrugated cardboard," he said. "The operator of the crane was paying attention to catch it and to stop work immediately. That was the right thing to do. It's a surprise to everybody, thank goodness a small surprise."

McKay-Kim Construction is taking down the building. The company notified the district.

Libberton was promptly summoned by district officials and was responsible for hiring an abatement company to come remove the hazardous material.

That would involve setting up what's known as a "glove box," wetting down the asbestos, sealing it into airtight containers and removing it to a landfill that accepts asbestos. Libberton expects the cost of abatement will not exceed $1,000.

Then demolition of the old school can resume.

Libberton said there's no reason to suspect more asbestos problems will turn up as the salvage process continues, but he wouldn't guarantee it.

"That's what's fun about this business," he said. "There's always a surprise, especially in these old buildings. It didn't used to be regulated and people cheated, big time. They did strange things, like this. Who'd have expected this?"

Libberton said the asbestos found on the pipes was a generic product that is "non-friable" or more resistant to crumbling than "friable" kinds.

"There's been no exposure to kids attending the school because it was sealed in the wall. And there's none now. It didn't get torn up.

"I'm not trying to downplay the danger, because it's a lot like wearing a seat belt, when you need it, you really need it. You can't take it lightly, but to have a real risk, you basically would have to have a cloud of it released in an enclosed area for a prolonged exposure.

"Asbestos lodged in your lungs will, of course, cause cancer."