Asbestos In Older Schools

Schools Required to Inspect Asbestos Products for Hazards

Until the early 1970s, almost every school was constructed with asbestos-containing products. Asbestos was part of floor and ceiling tiles, acoustical plaster, pipe insulation, and fireproofing materials. Cold-weather states employed vast amounts of the material in school insulation systems. As the hazards of asbestos became better known, however, the public grew alarmed about the potential effects of asbestos exposure on school children. A series of laws were enacted to address this issue. Although progress is being made, asbestos-containing material still exists in many of the nation's primary and secondary schools.

Asbestos in Schools Regulated by AHERA and ASHARA

In 1986, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA; Asbestos Containing Materials in Schools, 40 CFR Part 763, Subpart E) was signed into law. It requires local education authorities to inspect their schools for asbestos-containing building materials and prepare management plans which recommend the best way to reduce the asbestos hazard. Options include repairing damaged asbestos-containing material, spraying it with a sealant, enclosing it, removing it, or keeping it in good condition so that it does not release fibers.

The school's management plan must be developed by accredited management planners and approved by the state in which the school is located. Local education agencies must notify parent, teacher and employer organizations of the plans, and then implement them. AHERA also requires accreditation of asbestos abatement designers, contractor supervisors and workers, building inspectors, and school management plan writers.

The first management plans were due on October 12, 1988, but the Act arranges for reinspection and surveillance. Schools built after that date must also be inspected for asbestos hazards and follow an asbestos management plan.

Inspections and reinspections are covered by the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA, Asbestos Hazardous Response, 15 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.) and other regulations in addition to AHERA. The Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act (ASHARA), enacted in 1990 and implemented in 1994, governs the training that asbestos workers, inspectors, supervisors, plan management writers, and abatement designers must receive to become accredited by the state. More stringent state and local laws may also cover asbestos in schools.

Asbestos in the Playground

Although asbestos in schools is addressed in various federal and local laws, some school districts have additional asbestos concerns. In geographic areas in which serpentine rock is common, asbestos-contaminated serpentine may have been used for surfacing in schoolyards and playgrounds.

In California, the Air Resources Board has issued an advisory suggesting that playgrounds, unpaved roads on school grounds, and unpaved school parking areas be inspected to determine whether they are surfaced with asbestos-containing serpentine rock. An area surfaced with crushed rock or gravel that is grayish-green to bluish-black is suspect, and a registered geologist should check it for serpentine content. If he or she finds serpentine, the material should be tested to determine if asbestos is present. The Board recommends sealing this asbestos-containing serpentine, removing it, or covering it with non-asbestos-containing materials to prevent disturbance.

Serpentine rock occurs naturally in many regions of the western United States and in some parts of the East Coast. In California, it is abundant in the Coastal ranges, the Klamath Mountains, and the Sierra foothills.

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