Asbestos in Nation’s Schools Remains Widespread Hazard
More than 30 years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called asbestos in schools “a significant hazard to public health,” and Congress passed a law aimed at protecting the 16 million students and school personnel at risk. But since then, schools have largely been on their own.
Washington, D.C. – More than 30 years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called asbestos in schools “a significant hazard to public health,” and Congress passed a law aimed at protecting the 16 million students and school personnel at risk. But since then, schools have largely been on their own, according to an investigation by EWG Action Fund. “...
Washington, D.C. – More than 30 years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called asbestos in schools “a significant hazard to public health,” and Congress passed a law aimed at protecting the 16 million students and school personnel at risk. But since then, schools have largely been on their own, according to an investigation by EWG Action Fund.
“It’s been more than 20 years since Congress set aside funds to help schools address asbestos exposure, leaving cash-strapped school districts to divert resources to deal with it,” said Bill Walker, an EWG Action Fund advisor and author of the report.
“Many schools built before the early 1980s almost certainly contain asbestos, and almost every week brings another story of asbestos found in schools – disrupting education, displacing students and disturbing parents,” he said. “It’s a national problem that demands a national solution, starting with a total ban on asbestos.”
In 1984, the EPA conducted a nationwide survey to determine the extent of the potential dangers posed to students, faculty and other school employees. Based on a sample of 2,600 public school districts and private schools, EPA estimated that 15 million students and 1.4 million teachers, administrators and other employees – in almost 35,000 schools – were at risk of exposure to deadly airborne asbestos fibers.
The survey, conducted in January 1984, appears to be most recent effort by the federal government to assess the risks asbestos poses to those in American schools.
Last month, Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) sent a letter to governors of all 50 states asking for detailed information on asbestos in each state’s schools. They wrote that almost 30 years after Congress enacted the 1986 Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act in an effort to protect students, teachers and other employees, “the extent of asbestos hazards remaining in schools across the nation is largely unknown.”
As the EWG Action Fund report highlights, a continual stream of reports documents asbestos crises in schools around the nation.
- In October 2014, the Ocean View School District in Orange County, Calif.,closed three campuses after test results found asbestos in several classrooms. The district depleted its reserve fund to bus students to other schools in the county as construction problems delayed the reopening of the campuses. In a further blow to its budget, alarmed parents pulled more than 150 students out of the small district.
- A lawsuit filed in federal court alleges that the Dearbon Heights school district near Detroit, Mich., falsified a report in an attempt to cover up potential asbestos contamination at two of the district’s schools.
- In August 2014, an unlicensed contractor received a five-year prison sentence for leaving asbestos dust behind at a day care facility and admitted to performing unlicensed asbestos abatement procedures at several other New Jersey schools and homes.
- Earlier this year, a church-run preschool in Arlington,, was temporarily closed after asbestos dust was detected after old flooring was removed. Said one parent, according to ARLnow.com: “Now 100-plus kids don’t have a daycare to go to. Who knows if the church has the money to remediate asbestos.”
- In February 2011,officials temporarily shut down a high school and junior high in St. Louis Park, , after finding asbestos dust from floor tiles.
- For at leastfive months in 2010, children who attended Washington Elementary School in Berkeley, California might have been exposed to asbestos.
Children’s exposure to asbestos may be greater than that of adults because they are generally more active than adults and have a higher breathing rate. They inhale relatively more often through the mouth than through the nose. Young children are shorter than adults and their mouths and noses are closer to the floor. They are likely to inhale higher concentrations of dust stirred up from the floor.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s “Work-Related Lung Disease Surveillance Report” for 2007, the latest year available, said that elementary school teachers are more than twice as likely to die from mesothelioma, an incurable cancer almost always cause by asbestos, as Americans generally.
More than 10,000 people die each year from asbestos-related disease, which is roughly the same number who die from skin cancer. For many, exposures can take place when they’re young.
The EPA says it is often safer to manage exposure to asbestos in schools by sealing it or closing off access, rather than attempting to remove it, which can disperse the deadly fibers into the air. The 1986 law requires schools to develop and regularly update an action plan for keeping students, teachers and staff safe, but inspections in some states have shown poor compliance with the requirement.
“Congress should restore funding to school districts for asbestos abatement and enact a total ban on asbestos. Only a ban will ensure that the problem does not continue to grow,” the EWG Action Fund report says.