Asbestos in Our Schools: How the EPA Keeps Children and Adults Safe
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created to protect the environment and the health of humans by regulating substances that could potentially be harmful to both. Asbestos is a carcinogen that was used in many places that we come in contact with daily: our schools, our homes, the buildings we work in, and the products we buy. While asbestos is illegal to mine in the United States, it is not illegal to import and asbestos is still used in products and manufacturing today. Many schools that were built before 1980 contain asbestos because of the many qualities to the substance; cheap, easy to install, acted as an insulator and a fire retardant. Back then, the dangers of asbestos were not made public and as a result, many children today are at risk of being exposed.
Government organizations like the EPA have regulated the mineral to determine the acceptable level of asbestos to which humans can be exposed, how to remove asbestos from a facility safely, and what you are required to do by law if you discover asbestos. In 1986, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) was passed in an attempt to protect children from being exposed to asbestos in schools. This law requires schools and other educational platforms to inspect buildings for asbestos -containing material. If asbestos is found, the law then requires officials to produce an asbestos management plan and reduce asbestos levels within the affected buildings.
Schools Must Comply
Public school districts and non-profit schools have a series of requirements enforced by the EPA regarding asbestos:
- Institutions must be inspected (after initial inspection) every three years for asbestos-containing material, regardless if any was found or not in previous inspections.
- Develop and implement an asbestos management plan. A copy must be kept at the school and available for parents and faculty/staff at any time.
- Yearly notifications to the parent or faculty/staff regarding the management plan and any asbestos-related actions that occurred or will occur in the school.
- Designate a contact person who is responsible for making sure requirements are properly met.
- Periodically check on areas of known asbestos-containing building material.
- Guarantee only trained and licensed professionals perform inspections and make claims.
- Provide custodial staff with asbestos training.
The Management Plan
If friable asbestos is uncovered in a school, then under the AHERA, the school must develop and implement an asbestos management plan. These management plans must contain vital information concerning the asbestos found such as: where the asbestos is located, how the organization should go about responding, and what eventual actions will be taken to remove or repair the material. Records also must be kept within the management plan which includes:
- Name and location of each school building.
- Whether or not the building contains asbestos, and if it does, what type.
- Date of initial school inspection.
- Date of future school inspection.
- Blueprints that show the location of the asbestos materials in the school.
- Preventative measures to reduce asbestos.
- Name of laboratory that sampled the material.
- Contact information for the “designated person.”
- List of steps taken to regularly inform faculty, staff, parents, legal guardians, and students about inspections, response actions, and surveillance.
Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act – (ASHARA)
Approximately 25 years ago, it was estimated that the amount of asbestos that contaminated schools would affect close to 15 million children. The EPA also estimated that it would cost educational services $3 billion for clean-up and removal because schools must comply with the aforementioned AHERA. It became apparent that without any sort of assistance, school districts and educational facilities would suffer as they would not be able to financially support the response to asbestos found in schools. The ASHARA was implemented in 1990 as a provision to the AHERA that requires the EPA to assist, direct, and enable institutions to be able to follow the correct protocol.
It’s important for parents, faculty, staff, and even students to remember that they have the right to inspect the school’s asbestos management plan at any time. Once the plan is requested, the school has up to five days to make the plan available.
Lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma are all caused by asbestos exposure. The long latency period between asbestos exposure and illness mean one may not find out he/she was exposed to asbestos until decades later. Asbestos -related illnesses for younger people are rare, but asbestos exposure at institutes such as schools increases the risk for younger folks to develop problems later in life.
At Goldberg, Persky & White, we understand that building conditions may appear to be safe, but because asbestos fibers are light weight and readily airborne, exposure may be inevitable for many. GPW’s combination of evidence, experience, and expertise culminate in the aggressive representation of our clients. Contact us today for a free case review.
United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Asbestos and School Buildings,”[Link]
United States Environmental Protection Agency, “How to Manage Asbestos in School Buildings: The AHERA Designated Person’s Self Study Guide, “ (January 1996). [Link]