Decades after the deadly effects of asbestos were exposed, the mineral still lurks in a wide range of building structures throughout the country, including schools.
Asbestos in schools
Around half of the schools currently operating in the US were originally built in the 1950s and 1960s. During this time, asbestos was considered to be a miracle mineral, with significant insulative and fire-resistant properties, and was used extensively to manufacture a vast range of building materials.
Many schools were built with asbestos materials and products.
Asbestos-containing products do not typically pose any danger to health as long as they remain intact and are left undisturbed. However, when they are disturbed, they will emit dangerous microscopic fibers into the air to be inhaled or ingested by anyone in the vicinity. Ingesting or inhaling asbestos fibers can cause severe health issues, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma (a rare, aggressive form of cancer).
Asbestos materials become dangerous when they can release harmful asbestos fibers.
As these school buildings age, the asbestos-containing materials begin to deteriorate. They can also be damaged easily during careless maintenance work or negligent abatement procedures.
Until the 1980s, asbestos-containing building materials were used in the construction of schools. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the majority of America’s primary and secondary schools still feature asbestos-containing materials within their structure.
Where can asbestos be found in schools?
Asbestos was once used in a vast range of construction material products, and consequently, it can be found in many areas of school buildings.
Common school building materials that may contain asbestos include:
- Asbestos cement sheets, roofing, downpipes, guttering
- Ceiling tiles
- Vinyl flooring
- Textured paint/popcorn ceilings
- Heating and cooling system ductwork
- Asbestos lagging on boilers and pipe work
What is being done about asbestos in schools?
In 1986, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) was passed in Congress, aimed at protecting students and teachers from the dangers of asbestos in schools.
The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA)
AHERA requires that all public school districts (and not-for-profit private schools) adhere to the following guidelines:
- Train a designated person to oversee all asbestos-related issues
- Prepare and maintain an asbestos management plan
- Conduct 3-yearly inspections of the building’s asbestos-containing materials
- Respond appropriately to reduce or prevent asbestos hazards
- Provide teachers and parents with an annual update regarding the school’s asbestos management plan and any abatement actions
- Ensure that only certified contractors carry out inspections and abatements
- Train staff in asbestos-awareness
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), carefully managed asbestos-containing products pose relatively little risk. As such, the AHERA rarely enforces the removal of asbestos materials in schools unless their condition deteriorates.
What should happen when asbestos is found in a school?
According to AHERA guidelines, the response to finding asbestos in a school should include:
The only permanent solution to the risk of exposure is to remove the asbestos. Unfortunately, asbestos removal is costly and increases the risk of exposure during the abatement. When asbestos removal is unavoidable, it must be carried out by licensed professionals
Inspection and routine maintenance
When the identified asbestos is in good (undamaged and intact) condition, a maintenance plan should be carried out to ensure that it stays that way
Encapsulation and enclosure
The risk of exposure must be carefully managed by accredited asbestos professionals and can include encapsulation (spraying exposed asbestos with a sealant to avoid the release of fibers), and enclosure (creating an airtight barrier around the asbestos)
Ensuring that sufficient measures are being taken to remove asbestos from school buildings
While the guidelines as set out by the AHERA are all well and good in theory, recent findings demonstrate that more needs to be done.
An Ongoing Danger: Asbestos can still be found in some schools
According to a 2018 report from the EPA’s Office of Inspector General, more needs to be done to satisfactorily reduce asbestos exposure risks in American schools. The report showed that, between 2011 and 2015, only 13% of the required AHERA inspections were actually carried out.
In the majority of states, the EPA is responsible for ensuring that AHERA-compliant inspections are carried out in schools.
Some states have waived Federal removal requirements for asbestos in schools.
The states not included in this responsibility are 12 waiver and nine non-waiver states.
The 12 waiver states are Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, and Utah. These states implement their own school asbestos programs.
The nine non-waiver states are New York, New Jersey, Vermont, West Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Hawaii. These states also conduct their own inspections, with oversight (and enforcement) by the EPA.
According to the EPA report, between 2011 and 2015, states with federal jurisdictions for asbestos inspections carried out significantly fewer inspections than waiver and non-waiver states.
Don’t Wait. Take Action if you are unsure.
Teachers and parents must connect with school administrators to help ensure that an asbestos management plan is in place and is being maintained. In addition, the school must conduct training to ensure that all staff are aware of how to identify and respond to potential asbestos exposure. This is especially important in federal jurisdiction states where the rate of asbestos inspections is worryingly lacking.
If you may have been exposed to asbestos, speak with your healthcare provider about tests and screening to help detect the presence of asbestos fibers and asbestos-related damage.
AsbestosClaims.law is your comprehensive resource for all things asbestos. We hope this information is helpful.
If you have any additional questions or concerns related to asbestos, check out our website and YouTube page for videos, infographics and answers to your questions about asbestos, including health and safety, asbestos testing, removing asbestos from your home and building, and legal information about compensation for asbestos injuries.
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