Asbestos in Schools Across the United States

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Asbestos in School Buildings Across the Nation

The history of asbestos in schools dates back to the early to mid-20th century when asbestos was considered a versatile and highly desirable material due to its fire-resistant, insulating, and durable properties. Asbestos was extensively used in the construction of school buildings for various purposes, including insulation around pipes and boilers, ceiling tiles, floor tiles, roofing materials, and even laboratory equipment. Its heat resistance and fireproofing qualities made it a popular choice to enhance safety within educational facilities. However, the health hazards associated with asbestos exposure became increasingly evident over time. Asbestos was used under the impression that they were making the buildings safer for children and teachers, not putting them directly in harm’s way.

Prolonged exposure to asbestos can cause severe diseases that are difficult to treat and carry an incredibly high mortality rate. Asbestos fibers, when disturbed or damaged, can become airborne and easily inhaled, posing significant risks to anyone nearby. The adverse health effects of asbestos exposure, such as lung cancer, asbestosis, and malignant mesothelioma, became well-documented in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then, efforts have been made to remove or enclose asbestos-containing materials in schools to minimize risks.

Numerous school districts still face challenges in meeting these regulations. They often struggle to find resources for comprehensive asbestos testing and prompt removal. Weeks into the new school year, the lack of balance between safety and financial constraints continues to put some students at risk. In this deep dive into asbestos in US schools, we delve into the stories of the affected communities, the ongoing challenges and regulations, and the crucial need for safe environments for our students and educators.

Asbestos Regulations in U.S. Schools

The U.S. government began intervening with asbestos in school buildings in the 1970s and 1980s. Specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated efforts to address asbestos hazards in schools during this time, creating regulations and guidelines to manage and mitigate asbestos exposure in educational facilities.

Despite the nearly 40-year effort to impose strict regulations and guidelines to ensure safe asbestos removal, some schools still face closure. School districts across the United States face the financial burden of asbestos abatement, limited funding and resources, and complex regulatory requirements.

The challenges of asbestos abatement can disrupt academic activities as schools attempt to hire certified asbestos abatement professionals. Asbestos removal is a meticulous and specialized process that requires compliance with strict safety measures and environmental guidelines. Limited budgets in educational institutions can make it challenging to allocate sufficient funds for thorough asbestos removal. These constraints occasionally lead to delays or only partial removal efforts.

New Jersey Public School Closes Due to Asbestos in Schools

The 124-year-old Paterson Public School No. 3 in New Jersey closed indefinitely following a partial ceiling collapse in late July. This incident has triggered a planned 16-week asbestos cleanup, estimated to cost $2.1 million, involving all 21 classrooms and hallway ceilings. The cleanup is scheduled to conclude by the first week of January 2024, with approximately 302 students being relocated to three other schools in the interim.

Asbestos exposure in New Jersey has been a concern due to the extensive use of asbestos in construction and various industries throughout the 20th century. Older buildings in New Jersey, like Paterson Public School No. 3, often contain asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). When a building, especially an older one, experiences structural failures or collapses, ACMs can be released into the air. Once airborne, asbestos fibers can be easily inhaled or ingested by people in the vicinity, including rescue workers, students, staff, and nearby residents.

The State of New Jersey recently voted to ban the sale and use of asbestos-containing products in 2019. However, the law does protect citizens from coming into contact with existing asbestos in schools and other buildings. The latency period for asbestos-related diseases can be long, with symptoms manifesting years or even decades after exposure. Therefore, the damage or collapse of older buildings in New Jersey heightens the risk of asbestos exposure among teachers and students, emphasizing the need for prompt and thorough asbestos abatement and cleanup measures.

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Florida Elementary School Identifies Asbestos-Containing Materials

A recent study in Cape Coral, Florida, revealed potential asbestos exposure risks in four charter schools, prompting concerns among parents. The annual safety report identified areas needing further asbestos testing, including carpet glue, baseboards, casings, and ceiling tile materials.

Parents emphasized the need for thorough testing to ensure the safety of the children and urged immediate actions to address any potential asbestos hazards. While the initial report indicated the possibility of asbestos in schools, further studies are required to confirm any safety hazards, and classes are continuing normally for now.

Items that tested positive for asbestos at Oasis Elementary School South and North had a low potential for disturbance, including:

  • Mostly vinyl floor tile
  • Duct mastic (adhesive)
  • Sink insulation
  • Rubber wall base and adhesive
  • Ceramic tile
  • Carpet adhesive
  • Door insulation
  • Drywall/joint compound
  • Ceiling tile

In Florida, some efforts have been made to mitigate asbestos exposure risks. Regulations and guidelines have been established to manage asbestos-containing materials during renovations, demolitions, or maintenance activities. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) oversees asbestos regulations and ensures compliance with federal laws like the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) and the Clean Air Act (CAA).

Asbestos Exposure Still Haunts Philadelphia Schools

Philadelphia schools are grappling with major disruptions due to ongoing asbestos cleanup efforts, impacting the return to school for many students. While some schools, such as Building 21 High School and Mitchell Elementary, have been given the green light to reopen after addressing asbestos concerns, Frankford High School is only partially reopening. It will have a dedicated area for 10th through 12th graders, while ninth graders will be relocated to Clemente. Parents, students, and educators are navigating these changes as the ongoing asbestos cleanup efforts continue to shape the back-to-school experience. These ongoing issues have even led the city to create a map of asbestos removal projects.

This situation is part of a larger legal dispute between the School District of Philadelphia and the city, stemming from a 2022 law focused on environmental hazards like asbestos in schools. A settlement was reached in July, with a commitment to conduct more inspections and increase transparency regarding environmental issues in school buildings. The settlement reflects a significant step toward ensuring safer learning environments for Philadelphia’s students, with a renewed commitment to regular inspections and improved communication about environmental concerns.

What to Do if You Were Exposed to Asbestos at School

For Philadelphia teachers and parents with children in schools, taking immediate action if you suspect asbestos exposure is crucial. Seek prompt medical attention, informing healthcare professionals about potential exposure and symptoms. Document the incident, including date, time, location, circumstances, and symptoms for possible legal or medical claims. If you develop asbestos-related health issues, consult an attorney specializing in asbestos exposure through AHERA or environmental law to understand your rights and compensation options.

Remember, your well-being and legal rights matter. Taking these proactive steps offers peace of mind and helps protect your family’s interests during uncertain times. By being informed and prepared, you can navigate the challenges posed by asbestos exposure with confidence.

Last updated on November 27th, 2023 at 04:05 pm

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