An issue that every child, parent, teacher and school staff person should consider: Do you know if your school building has asbestos?
The article below comes from Abbey G. O'Hara, Communication and Research Assistant at the
Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center:Asbestos
– a naturally occurring mineral that also happens to be carcinogenic and is responsible for the development of a number of illnesses, including asbestosis, mesothelioma cancer, and other respiratory problems – was widely popular up until the eighties, when the federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) first instituted asbestos usage regulations.
Found in products such as attic and piping insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, roofing tiles, drywall, stucco, and even certain brands of duct tape, asbestos is not dangerous unless it is friable
. As asbestos products age, or, if they are disturbed or damaged, the tiny asbestos fibers become airborne, putting individuals – including students and staff at older asbestos-laden school buildings – at risk of inhalation. If inhaled, the claw-like asbestos fibers can “cling” to the mesothelium, or lining of the internal organs, for decades before the afflicted individual may begin to suffer from symptoms associated with asbestos-related disease. So, if our children happen to be exposed in their school building, they could be well into their fifties or early sixties before they begin to suffer from an asbestos-caused illness.
The presence of asbestos in school buildings is a nationwide issue. Many schools inhabit very old buildings, especially in urban areas. As school buildings age, they often need repairs and renovations, and this is usually when inspectors and construction workers discover asbestos products. In a perfect world, students and staff would be dismissed from the building upon finding asbestos, and abatement of the potentially harmful material would begin immediately, followed by air quality monitoring to ensure that no asbestos fibers are lingering in the air that our children will be breathing when they return to school. This is not always the case, however.
As I am sure you know, countless school buildings throughout our country contain asbestos materials that could potentially be harmful to the health of students and staff. Parents have a right to know whether or not the health of their children may be at risk, and all parents should speak with their child’s school district and inquire about their asbestos policies. Far too often, asbestos needs to be removed from an older school building, and parents are uninformed or unaware that the abatement is even occurring. In some instances, asbestos abatement has occurred while students and staff are in the building. Schenley High School in Pittsburgh, PA
is a prime example of a school’s failure to properly handle asbestos issues. When asbestos-containing plaster began to peel and fall on to the floor in the school’s classrooms and hallways last summer, the school closed and underwent a $750,000 renovation. No students and faculty were put in danger of asbestos exposure, according to school officials. But parents remain angry over the situation, as a number of other school buildings in the district also contain asbestos products, but remain open. Why haven’t those schools been closed, too, for asbestos abatement and air quality testing? The reason, according to Superintendent Mark Roosevelt, is because of money. It would cost an estimated $64.4 million dollars to conduct asbestos abatement and renovations in all of the district’s schools – money that the district simply does not have. While the school buildings have been deemed safe for students and staff for now, parents in the district are worried that asbestos removal and air quality testing will not happen in the future and that their children’s health will be endangered.
So, what’s a parent to do? All schools should have an asbestos policy – in writing – that is available to parents and community members upon request. The policy should outline the school’s plan of attack should friable asbestos materials be discovered in the building. If the policy is lacking, parents have a right – as protectors of their children and as taxpayers – to demand that it be amended.
Asbestos –caused diseases, including asbestos cancer, are very serious, and because of their long latency period (20 to 50 years) they are an issue of concern for parents whose children may have been exposed while at school. Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center
. Your Child’s School May Be Laden with Asbestos
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.
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. A school 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. Asbestos in schools may also be covered by more stringent state and local laws.
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. See Roads to obtain more details about the distribution of serpentine, and the rules governing its use on roadways.Brayton Purcell LLP When Asbestos Becomes a Teaching Hazard
School employees are “the forgotten municipal workers,” according to DL Alexander of the American Federation of Teachers (Occup. Med. 2001, Jan–Mar; 16(1): 65–78
). He points to crumbling school buildings with inadequate indoor air quality and the potential for asbestos exposure.
Schools built during the 1940s through 1970s are likely to contain asbestos, which was used extensively during that period. The list of asbestos–containing products includes common building materials such as insulation, pipe wrap, ceiling tiles, floor tiles, coatings, roof shingles and drywall as well as some less common items such as lab counter/table tops, theater fire curtains, and backing on chalk boards. Asbestos has the potential to enter the classroom if these materials become worn, damaged or disturbed.
According to a 1982 report by the Environmental Protection Agency, about 100,000 to 300,000 teachers in 8,600 schools were exposed to airborne asbestos in their classrooms. Legislators later enacted the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act
(AHERA) to require schools to have adequate asbestos management plans, and the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act
(ASHARA) governing school asbestos inspections.
Despite AHERA and ASHARA, teachers may still be exposed to asbestos during renovations, routine maintenance and asbestos abatement activities in some asbestos–laden schools. Also, it usually takes decades to develop asbestos–related diseases such as asbestosis and the cancer mesothelioma. Therefore, retired teachers who worked in the classroom 30 or 40 years ago may first be showing disease symptoms today.
A High Mesothelioma Rate Among School Teachers
Mesothelioma is an aggressive asbestos–related cancer that first attacks the membranes lining the lungs (pleural mesothelioma) or the stomach (peritoneal mesothelioma). The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health
(NIOSH) found an elevated rate of mesothelioma among school teachers in a study that took place from 1999 through 2001 (Int J Occup Environ Health, 2006 Jan–Mar; 12(1): 9–15). According to an earlier report by the Environmental Working Group, 137 teachers died from mesothelioma in the period from 1985 through 1999.
In New York, one researcher reviewed the health and asbestos exposure history of four teachers with pleural mesothelioma, and found that their only contact with asbestos was in the schools in which they taught (Ann N Y Acad Sci., 1991 Dec 31; 643: 454–86). A Wisconsin report analyzed the deaths of 12 teachers from pleural mesothelioma. For nine of the teachers, their only potential source of asbestos exposure was from asbestos–containing material in their classrooms (Ann N Y Acad Sci., 1991 Dec 31; 643: 550–72).
Compared to pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma is a rarer form of the cancer. Public school teachers have an increased risk of developing peritoneal mesothelioma, according to a National Cancer Institute report, which reviewed national peritoneal mesothelioma statistics over an 8–year period (Am J Ind Med., 1999 Jan; 35(1): 9–14).
The Classroom, Mesothelioma and Your Legal Rights
Although some defendants have attempted to say that the amount of airborne asbestos in the classroom is low, we know that there is really no safe level of asbestos exposure. In addition, a teacher may be exposed to cumulative amounts of asbestos from the classroom over the course of his or her teaching career. Furthermore, renovations and other repair activities can release a high level of asbestos fibers. All these factors may go into a case against the companies that made the asbestos products used in the schools.
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