America’s primary, secondary and charter schools are estimated to have asbestos-containing materials by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In 2015, an investigative report showed that out of 5,309 local education agencies in 15 states, more than two thirds have schools which contain asbestos. When such asbestos products wear down over time or are damaged, they put occupants of the schools like staff, teachers and students at risk of asbestos exposure. Ingesting or inhaling these asbestos fibers can result in health conditions like lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma many years after one has been exposed to it. A school is likely to contain asbestos if it was built before the 1980s.
Asbestos in Schools
Approximately 50 percent of schools in the United States were established between 1950 and 1969. This was a period when asbestos was used in many types of building in order to increase its fire resistance and its durablity. At that point of time, many were not aware about the health consequences that could result due to asbestos exposure. Products that contain asbestos are not dangerous if they were undisturbed and left intact, but many of these asbestos-containing materials are deteriorating and may be damaged due to lack of maintenance or negligent abatement procedures.
Where Can Asbestos be Found in Schools?
Asbestos was initially praised for its insulation and fireproofing abilities. Asbestos was included in products that were used to build auditoriums, school corridors, classtomms, lounges and other areas with high traffic volume all the way till the 1980s. Asbestos-containing materials are used in building the following:
- Ceiling tiles
- Boiler insulation
- Pipe wrap insulation
- “Popcorn” ceilings
- Vinyl flooring
- Duct work for cooling and heating systems
- Cement sheets
What was Done?
In order to protect students and teachers from asbestos exposure, the Congress passed the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) in 1986. The act required nonprofit privare schools and public schools to regularly inspect asbestos-containing materials, think about how to manage asbestos, allocate someone trained to take care of asbestos-related activities and engage appropriate actions to reduce or prevent asbestos hazards. However, the law did not require schools to remove materials that contained asbestos if they were in good condition.
The Current State
In 2018, a report from the EPA’s Office of Inspector General said that there was not enough done to minize asbestos risks in schools. Only 13% of inspections EPA was responsible for were carried out from 2011 to 2015. The EPA is in charge of federal inspections for many states, and the remaining states either conduct their own inspections or they make their own regulations to oversee asbestos in schools.
A report from the Committee on Carcinogenicity also shows that children are more at risk from asbestos exposure as compared to adults, where a young child is five times more likely to develop mesothelioma as compared to an adult when exposed to asbestos.