Even though asbestos is a known carcinogen - banned in 1989 by the Environmental Protection Agency - asbestos is still found in some schools, causing potential health risks to teachers, students, school staff, and others. The ban did not require schools to remove asbestos-containing materials altogether but did establish certain regulations to ensure that schools manage existing asbestos levels and exposure . The EPA does, however, require schools to remove any damaged asbestos materials on the premises.
Asbestos Management in Schools
Some schools have had asbestos completely removed but the majority of schools simply manage the levels under requirements established by the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), which was passed by Congress in 1986. The asbestos management plan requires school authorities to regularly check asbestos levels and document asbestos response actions, including location of asbestos within the school and any action taken to remove or repair asbestos damage. The management plan is intended to keep school occupants safe from asbestos dangers. However, there have been numerous instances of schools failing to comply with the AHERA.
All schools are required to report to parent-teacher organizations once a year on the status of the school's asbestos management plan, including any plans for asbestos removal. Any parent, teacher, or school employee has the right to review the school's asbestos management plan.
Danger of Old Asbestos in Schools
Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance but its tiny fibers can become lodged in people's lungs when inhaled or ingested. Inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers can lead to potentially deadly health effects, including lung cancer from asbestos and mesothelioma - a deadly and rare form of cancer affecting the lining of the lungs or other organs . Health experts previously maintained that only high concentrations of asbestos fibers inhaled over an extended period of time would cause health problems. However, some studies have shown that even short periods of asbestos exposure can lead to adverse health effects.
There is currently no cure for mesothelioma and treatments only extend life expectancy by several months. Since it can take years - sometimes decades - before symptoms of asbestos exposure become evident, people exposed to asbestos fibers in their schools may not find out they have been affected until it is too late.
If you are worried about asbestos violations in your school or your child's school, you should contact your regional EPA asbestos coordinator. If you would like to speak with an asbestos attorney, please contact us.
NCEF lists links, books, and journal articles on how asbestos abatement and management is conducted in school facilities as well as how schools can comply with federal regulations.