The current U.S. policy for dealing with asbestos in schools is to manage it rather than completely eliminate it. Since a management plan will not make the problem go away, the likelihood for harmful exposure will probably continue for many years to come.
An area of serious concern is the many schools across the U.S. that still have lingering asbestos within their buildings, exposing students and school employees to the harmful material every day. Any school that was built before the 1980s likely contains some form of asbestos.
An extremely alarming fact is that half of all U.S. schools were built between 1950 and 1969. During these two decades, asbestos material was at its peak in terms of being used as a construction material. Currently, there are more than 130,000 American students who go to class each day at schools that contain asbestos materials. If this harmful material deteriorates over time or becomes disturbed, then asbestos dust can enter the air and be inhaled.
The EPA has tried to calm any worries over asbestos in schools by insisting that the risk of danger to teachers and students is minimal so long as the material remains in an undisturbed condition. The EPA recommends that schools with asbestos materials in their buildings leave them in place. However, serious exposure and health risks can emerge if inappropriate procedures occur or maintenance workers are negligent.
Many parents and the public are becoming aware of the possibility that the schools their children attend may house hazardous conditions. Some classrooms in schools across the country have been found to contain airborne asbestos levels that far exceed federal safety standards.
Teachers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure
People who worked directly with asbestos materials, such as miners and construction workers, as well as veterans, are at the highest risk of asbestos related diseases and conditions. Yet, studies show that teachers currently are more likely than any other occupation in the United States to experience asbestos in the workplace. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the school industry was ranked second for deaths caused by mesothelioma in 1999, and worldwide, mesothelioma deaths among teachers are on the rise. These new findings are giving medical researchers the evidence they need to prove that the prevalence of asbestos in schools poses a serious danger to the health of anyone working in the school industry, which needs to be addressed immediately.
Understanding how to maintain a safe environment for all school employees and students is imperative in protecting against asbestos dangers. Unfortunately, there is really no easy way to know if a product contains asbestos unless it is clearly labeled. Training all personnel in schools where asbestos materials are present should be standard. By law, a qualified expert must be called to collect necessary samples within a school suspected of asbestos and then these samples must be sent to a lab to confirm the presence of asbestos.
To be safe at all times, schools are required to have an asbestos management plan on site. If for any reason you suspect asbestos deterioration in the school, a custodian should be notified of the hazard. It is also your right to be provided with a copy of the detailed plan, which should describe the type of asbestos material in the school and its exact location.
The school asbestos management plan should have a list of all asbestos inspections and any actions that have been implemented to limit exposure to asbestos materials within the school. If you find a questionable deteriorated area in the school and confirmation in the plan that asbestos is indeed there, then school administration or a qualified expert should be notified immediately.
Regulations for Asbestos in Schools
Currently, there are a series of regulations and rules to halt harmful exposure to asbestos materials in schools and reduce health risks. These regulations were a result of the EPA investigations from the 1980s that started to uncover the dominance of asbestos in schools and the serious risks that it poses to teachers and students. These same types of regulations also are enforced at colleges and universities across the country.