Asbestos Exposure – When Will It Stop?

Children building

A Northeast Ohio school is under fire for exposing teenagers to asbestos for weeks while gutting a building. Students volunteering at the Buckeye Education School thought they were helping out the community by lending their time to renovate an old building that is expected to become their new school. However, they were unknowingly removing asbestos-tainted materials from inside the building such as pipes, insulation, duct fabric and floor tiles. All of those materials were found to contain asbestos.

Some believe that the school used the volunteers in an effort to cut costs, because asbestos removal is an expensive process. Was trying to save money short-term really worth it if the school has to foot the bill for these students 30 years from now if (in the rare chance) they are diagnosed with an asbestos-related condition? I highly doubt that.

The fact that the school was trying to save money is ridiculous. If that is true, then they deserve every part of the criminal investigation that is now underway because putting innocent students and their health at risk for the sake of saving money is reprehensible. There are so many health problems and illnesses that plague our country these days that situations like these, that could and should be avoided, should never occur.

In a society that has become so tainted with medical and legal issues in recent years, you have to wonder why school officials even took a chance to allow students to work in an old building. Asbestos was popular in construction because it was cheap and provided heat and fire resistance, as well as sound absorption; so a lot of old buildings constructed before the 1980s contain asbestos. However, since asbestos is a proven health hazard to humans, awareness has grown and its use is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). That doesn’t sound safe.

Now, student volunteering is supposed to be an enriching and eye-opening experience for students, never one that puts them in danger. While it almost always takes years of heavy asbestos exposure for someone to legitimately be at risk of mesothelioma, these students and their families may be concerned about the risk for decades.

This isn’t the first time that innocent people have been exposed to asbestos without knowing it. There have been many instances where people who are not certified to remove asbestos have been hired to remove the material to cut costs. In these situations, these workers tend to have no idea of the severity of their actions and the risk they face.

The problem doesn’t stop at taking advantage of children. Homeless people are known victims in illegal asbestos removal scams as well.

Children Aren’t the Only Ones

A 1998 case in Wisconsin made national news as three contractors were hiring homeless men to remove asbestos without proper training and equipment. Once again, innocent lives were put at risk because of blatant disregard for the law. Janet Reno, the U.S. Attorney General at the time, said, “Knowingly removing asbestos improperly is criminal. Exploiting the homeless and other vulnerable people to do this is simply cruel.” Correct.

A similar case in Miami involved the hiring of two homeless men to strip a warehouse of 1,600 square feet of asbestos. The owners of the warehouse were sentenced to five months in jail. Five months, that’s it?

The mining town of Libby, Montana has seen more than 400 people killed by asbestos exposure from the WR. Grace and Co. mine that once operated there. More than 1,700 others have been sickened by it. Cleanup has been going on for 12 years, and has cost $447 million so far. There are still at least six other areas that have not been cleaned – including the mine itself. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Definitely.

In El Dorado Hills, California, the EPA launched an investigation that brought about a harsh reality: -almost every one of more than 400 air samples taken at a town park contained asbestos fibers. In fact, a Canadian epidemiologist said that the exposure levels were comparable to those in towns where mining had gone on for a century; while the EPA remained vague on the severity of the findings. Unfortunately, residents have not seen this as a pressing issue and many have chosen to remain in their asbestos-plagued town. Even worse, local officials have denied the issue, so the residents of El Dorado Hills continue to breathe asbestos-filled air and act as though nothing is wrong. And this issue extends beyond U.S. borders.

In Australia, just last year, asbestos was illegally dumped on the Corio Bay and left, uncovered. It took over seven months for Australia’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to get involved and solicit removal by a contractor. It still remains, with the area roped off to warn citizens of the danger of exposure.

For a threat that has existed for decades, officials seem quite relaxed when it comes to the removal of and exposure to asbestos. Something needs to change.

What do you think about the school’s decision to use children for asbestos product removal? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.


Nadia Persaud joined the Mesothelioma Center in 2011 as the Social Media Community Analyst. She is excited to be spreading awareness about asbestos safety and new developments in the industry with our online community. If you have a story idea for Nadia, please email her at npersaud@asbestos.com.

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