EWG Action Fund Calls On California to Investigate Asbestos Risks in Schools
Students of all ages, teachers and other employees at a number of California schools may have been exposed to asbestos over the last year, EWG Action Fund warned today in a letter to top state health and education officials.
OAKLAND, Calif. – Students of all ages, teachers and other employees at a number of California schools may have been exposed to asbestos over the last year, EWG Action Fund warned today in a letter to top state health and education officials. The organization, with offices in Sacramento and Oakland, urged the state to “take immediate action to make sure that every p...
OAKLAND, Calif. – Students of all ages, teachers and other employees at a number of California schools may have been exposed to asbestos over the last year, EWG Action Fund warned today in a letter to top state health and education officials.
The organization, with offices in Sacramento and Oakland, urged the state to “take immediate action to make sure that every public school and university in the state is doing all it can to eliminate the considerable risks posed by even the smallest amounts of asbestos.”
Heather White, executive director of EWG Action Fund, added: “It is incumbent on officials responsible for public education in California to take every possible step to ensure that students, faculty and support staff are safe, including from exposure to asbestos.”
Earlier this month, employees and students at the University of California at Davis who install and remove audio-visual equipment from classrooms and buildings reported that, at the direction of superiors, they had repeatedly punctured walls that likely certainly contained asbestos – without taking the necessary and required measures to protect students, faculty and other employees.
Recently, inspections of Hayward’s schools found more than 90,000 square feet of tile made with asbestos. Roughly half of it was damaged, making it possible for asbestos fibers to become airborne. All told, asbestos-containing tiles were in almost “50 classrooms, art rooms, music rooms and offices” in 34 schools, according to a July 16 report in The Pioneer, the East Bay newspaper that obtained the inspection results through a Freedom of Information request last spring. More than 20,000 students attend the 34 schools.
Last year, 1,600 students in the Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach were forced to relocate after asbestos fibers were found in three schools. The students were dispersed to eight schools in four school districts, costing the Ocean View district $50,000 a week to bus the children to the temporary locations. As a result, the school district has predicted a nearly $16 million budget shortfall. Two of the three schools have re-opened, but Lake View Elementary will remain closed for the upcoming school year.
Most schools and other structures built before 1980 contain asbestos. While asbestos-containing materials that have not been disturbed likely do not present a threat to public health, insulation, tiles or other materials that have been damaged or become friable can easily release asbestos fibers into the air.
When inhaled, even the smallest amounts of asbestos can lodge in the lungs and later trigger debilitating, even deadly diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration maintains that there is no “safe” level of asbestos and that even brief exposures to the deadly fiber “have caused mesothelioma in humans.” Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a form of cancer that is almost always fatal.
EWG Action Fund estimates that up to 15,000 Americans die each year from asbestos-related disease, and more than 21,000 Californians have died from asbestos since 1999. Federal data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that California has the highest number of asbestos deaths annually.
White sent her letter to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson; Christine Baker, director of industrial relations at the Department of Occupational Safety and Health; and Lauren Zeise, acting director of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.
EWG Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that is a separate sister organization of the Environmental Working Group. The mission of EWG Action Fund is to protect health and the environment by educating the public and lobbying on a wide range of environmental issues. Donations to EWG Action Fund are not tax-deductible.