What Happens When Asbestos Is Found in Schools?
AHERA outlines proper methods for dealing with asbestos in schools. States that don’t fall under EPA oversight and enforcement may handle these measures differently.
In general, asbestos action plans will include one or more of the following:
- If the identified asbestos materials are in good condition, schools will follow a special maintenance plan to ensure they remain that way. Maintenance efforts should be outlined in a school’s asbestos management plan.
- Maintenance staff may repair damaged pipe or boiler coverings that contain asbestos insulation. These jobs are usually small in nature and involve limited amounts of asbestos.
- This involves spraying exposed asbestos materials with a thick, paint-like sealant to prevent fiber release.
- Similar to encapsulation, enclosure involves building an airtight barrier around asbestos. This can be built of wood, metal or sheetrock.
Removing asbestos is the only permanent solution for controlling and preventing future exposure. Asbestos-containing materials are removed and replaced with non-asbestos products.
Encapsulation, enclosure and removal must be done by an accredited asbestos professional. Some repair jobs may require a licensed professional as well.
Asbestos removal from schools is usually a last resort because of high costs and the potential for increased exposure.
Examples of Asbestos Issues in US Schools
- Chicago: A 2016 EWG Action Fund study showed that students and teachers in nearly 200 Chicago public schools were at risk of asbestos exposure. Only 11 of 184 elementary, middle and high schools identified in an asbestos surveillance update complied with recommendations.Philadelphia: The School District of Philadelphia spent the summer of 2018 inspecting and cleaning up seven elementary schools found to have alarming levels of asbestos fibers. An investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer found 10.7 million asbestos fibers in one sixth-grade classroom after a building engineer stripped insulation from a steam pipe, leaving debris on the floor.Hartford, Connecticut: Officials closed the Wish School in Hartford for two days in 2017 after contractors exposed asbestos insulation when removing old lockers from the school.Manhattan Beach, California: The Manhattan Beach Unified School District was cited with 27 violations in August 2018 for negligent renovations at Mira Costa High School in Los Angeles County. Contractors at the school allegedly disturbed asbestos tiles in the library while students and parents were registering for the school year.
Resources for Parents
The EPA website is a good resource for additional information about asbestos in schools and federal requirements.
These are some useful links:
Asbestos in Schools FAQs
How do I find out if my child’s school has asbestos in it?
Call your school administrator and request a copy of the school’s asbestos management plan. This report should detail when the last asbestos inspection occurred and if exposed asbestos materials were found. The plan will also designate an asbestos contact person and provide contact information. You may need to reach out to your school district’s main office for this plan.
How do I find out if the school was required to be inspected for asbestos?
First, you should find out when the school was built. If it was constructed before the 1980s, there’s high probability that some form of asbestos is within the walls, ceilings or floors of the facility.
Next, find out if your state falls under federal jurisdiction for inspections, or if it is a waiver or non-waiver state. [See the Map] Implementation of AHERA falls to the EPA regional offices. You can contact your school or school district directly to see if inspections are required.
Is it dangerous to have asbestos-containing materials in my school?
Not necessarily. Asbestos is only dangerous when the mineral’s tiny fibers are disturbed and released into the air. According to the EPA, as long as asbestos materials are in good condition and properly maintained, they pose “relatively little risk to students and school employees.”
However, inspections should identify and evaluate these materials to prevent disturbing the products during renovations or demolitions.
My child’s school has asbestos in it. Why aren’t they taking it out?
Sometimes, it can be more dangerous to remove asbestos from a building than manage it. According to AHERA guidelines, asbestos removal is necessary only when the material damage is “extensive and severe, and other actions will not control fiber release.” Schools typically respond to asbestos by either repairing, encapsulating or enclosing materials.