A report today by the Washington Post spotlights the continued threat asbestos poses to students, teachers and other employees at many of the nation’s schools. In recent months, other news organizations have reported potential asbestos exposures at more than 50 schools in at least 13 states.
Recent Media Coverage Shows Asbestos Exposure Widespread in Nation’s Schools WASHINGTON, D.C. – A report today by the Washington Post spotlights the continued threat asbestos poses to students, teachers and other employees at many of the nation’s schools. In recent months, other news organizations have reported potential asbestos exposures at more than 50 schools in...
Recent Media Coverage Shows Asbestos Exposure Widespread in Nation’s Schools
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A report today by the Washington Post spotlights the continued threat asbestos poses to students, teachers and other employees at many of the nation’s schools. In recent months, other news organizations have reported potential asbestos exposures at more than 50 schools in at least 13 states.
EWG Action Fund’s Asbestos Nation campaign has been tracking asbestos exposure reports to highlight the ongoing threat the deadly mineral still poses to millions of Americans, including students.
“Asbestos is a very real threat to every community across the country, including in the schools many of our children attend,” said Alex Formuzis, vice president for strategic campaigns at EWG Action Fund. “Most people think asbestos disease only hits people who work with the substance, but that’s not the case at all. People in their 30s and 40s are now sick and dying from exposure that likely occurred when they were children.”
The Washington Post reported that “asbestos was heavily used in schools built between the 1940s and the late 1970s, when the federal government banned its use in new construction. Asbestos is not considered a health risk when it is stable and undisturbed. But if asbestos deteriorates and its microscopic fibers become airborne, it can increase the risks of lung cancer, mesothelioma and other lung disease.”
In 1984, the U.S. Environmental Protection conducted a nationwide survey to determine the extent of asbestos dangers to students. 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.
This survey has not been updated since then, according to an investigation by EWG Action Fund.
According to a report by The Philadelphia Tribune, “At Francis Scott Key Elementary School investigators found a pipe containing exposed asbestos in a hallway traveled by students and staff near the lunchroom.”
In Virginia, tests found asbestos dust in air samples taken at an Arlington, Va. preschool.
Inspections of the schools in Hayward, Calif., 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, the asbestos-made tiles were in almost “50 classrooms, art rooms, music rooms and offices” in the 34 schools where asbestos was found, according to an account in The Pioneer newspaper.
Several college campuses have also reported disruptions in recent months because of the threat of asbestos, including at the University of Miami, Arizona State University and Central Michigan University.
Public health experts and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration agree that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Inhaling even a single microscopic asbestos fiber can cause asbestos-related disease – including mesothelioma and asbestosis – later in life. EWG Action Fund estimates up to 15,000 Americans die each year from asbestos-related disease.
In 1984, Congress passed the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Act, which created a program to provide schools with expertise, technical assistance and financial resources to “ascertain the extent of danger to the health of students and staff from asbestos materials in schools.” Between 1984 and 1993, Congress appropriated $384 million for the program, but no federal resources have been set aside since, leaving schools largely on their own since the early 1990’s, according to the investigation by EWG Action Fund.
The 1986 federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, which established the regulations of asbestos in schools that are applicable today, requires all public school districts and private schools to regularly inspect their buildings for asbestos, take appropriate abatement actions and ensure that their asbestos management plans are available to parents and members of the public.
In March of this year, U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) sent letters to governors of all 50 states requesting detailed information on the extent of asbestos hazards in the nation’s schools and how each state was adhering to the regulations.
The Washington Post confirmed that the senators received responses from all 50 governors, but, according to spokesperson for Sen. Markey, the answers they received signaled that not every state was consistent in following the law.
“Congress and the EPA need to get on the ball and address this pressing public health issue,” said Formuzis. “Our children go to school to learn and develop the skills they’ll need to face challenges later in life. The threat of asbestos exposure and the diseases it can cause should not be one of them.”
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.