Report Paints Dismal Picture of Federal Inaction on School Asbestos

A new report raises questions about the lack of success of federal attempts to remediate asbestos in schools.

U.S. elementary school teachers have more than twice the risk of dying from the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma than other Americans do, according to Bill Walker's new Asbestos Nation report on the dangers of asbestos in schools, citing the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH.

(A project of EWG Action Fund, the Asbestos Nation's mission is to "educate and mobilize Americans about the ongoing dangers of asbestos.")

How many schoolteachers would have chosen their profession if this danger were more widely known? As it turns out, most of us do not know as much as we should about asbestos risk in American schools.

Young children may be at relatively high risk of asbestos-related diseases as compared to adults because of kids' early age of exposure, faster breathing rate, higher rate of mouth breathing and closer proximity to the floor where asbestos dust can be, says the report, citing EPA and U.K. sources.

The report notes that as early as 1980 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or EPA announced that asbestos exposure in schools was a "significant hazard to public health." A flurry of federal government activity followed to address the problem, followed by three decades of inaction, underfunding and lax enforcement.

Walker reports that it appears the federal government has not surveyed the level of asbestos danger in schools since 1984. At that time, the EPA estimated that conditions in almost 35,000 U.S. schools put millions of students, teachers and personnel at risk of exposure to airborne asbestos.

Around that time, Congress passed two major laws aimed at the problem. This legislation was to provide expert assistance and money to school districts to help with asbestos abatement, but since 1993, no money has been appropriated for this daunting task. The report notes that since 1990, EPA has been allowed to give money grants to schools for asbestos safety training, but that EPA could not tell the EWG Action Fund how much money has been granted.

The legislation also required school building inspections every three years, followed by appropriate abatement. Asbestos management plans are to be maintained by local schools and publicly available.

The EPA is charged with enforcing these requirements unless a state has received a waiver to establish its own school asbestos program, which has happened in 12 states. The report describes data about asbestos in schools in Massachusetts, noting significant noncompliance with required inspections, training, recordkeeping and parental notification of asbestos management plans.

Asbestos Nation calls on Congress to resume appropriations to schools for asbestos inspection and remediation, as well to pass a national ban on asbestos.

In addition, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., wrote in their official capacities to all U.S. governors requesting detailed information about asbestos in each state's schools as well as about inspection, abatement and funding. Responses were requested by May 15, 2015. Perhaps this attempt will rekindle meaningful efforts at asbestos control in U.S. schools.

Keywords: report, remediation, asbestos, school, teacher, mesothelioma, Asbestos Nation, children, student, abatement, money, inspection