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NBC 10 I-Team: Testing for lead, asbestos planned in North Providence

North Providence High School is one of many schools that will be tested for asbestos and lead. (WJAR)

All elementary and middle schools in North Providence, as well as the high school, will soon be tested for potential hazards, the NBC 10 I-Team has learned.

The school department has hired Vortex Inc. of Warwick to conduct lead and asbestos testing in the town. Those tests will be completed next week, according to Jim Fuoroli, the town’s facilities director.

"We are going to have a six-month test done for asbestos and lead at all North Providence schools," Fuoroli told the NBC 10 I-Team.

The move to test the schools comes after an NBC 10 I-Team investigation found several teachers and former students, who work in and attended the schools, were diagnosed with different forms of cancer. The Rhode Island Department of Health is investigating whether there is enough evidence to connect the teachers’ diagnoses with something in the schools.

Asbestos was found at Whelan, McGuire and Stephen Olney, according to reports obtained by the NBC 10 I-Team.

The I-Team also discovered that elevated levels of radon were found at Stephen Olney and Whelan elementary schools, as well as the high school.

At least 15 North Providence teachers and 18 former students were diagnosed with breast cancer. An expert who researches cancer and a connection to environmental toxins said breast cancer is often linked to radon.

Both McGuire and Stephen Olney will be demolished to make room for new schools.

During construction, teachers and students will be temporarily placed at St. Patrick’s School and George C. Calef School in Johnston, a move which has some staff and parents worried.

Calef was closed in 2008 and some say it’s not in great condition.

“As I walked up the steps to enter the school, an employee of Calef said to me, 'Welcome to our mold and asbestos-filled building,'" said one teacher who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.

North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi said Calef is clean and that he wants students and staff to be safe and healthy.

To address any concerns, Fuoroli said both Johnston schools will also be tested for lead and asbestos next week.

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