Asbestos exposure in schools is nothing new to the region as a Massachusetts school temporarily closed because of recent asbestos exposure concerns following water damage. In a time where safety and health have never been more important, students across the country could unknowingly be coming into contact with asbestos.
Asbestos Testing Leads to Temporary Closure of Massachusetts High School
Braintree High School in Braintree, Massachusetts delayed the start of the school year to conduct mandatory asbestos testing throughout the building. According to Superintendent Jim Lee, the school’s tiles contained asbestos and were removed improperly by a subcontractor following water damage.
The removal of asbestos-containing tile in the 50-year-old building could have disturbed the asbestos fibers manufactured into the tile. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulations require extensive testing following the improper removal of asbestos.
The school was thoroughly inspected after workers removed three to five tiles. The inspection found no asbestos in the air or on surfaces, and no residue or debris remained in the area. Students resumed classes at the school later in the week.
The Concern For Asbestos In Schools Across the Nation
As schools all over the nation start their school year, some parents, teachers, and students fear asbestos exposure may occur at their school too. Schools built before the 1980s likely contained or still contain asbestos in some form of insulation, flooring, or ceiling.
With more than 7 million teachers and 50 million students across the U.S., the concern for prolonged asbestos exposure in schools is high. According to one study, an estimated one-third of public schools in the U.S. still contain the toxin.
Teachers encounter a greater risk for developing asbestos-related conditions than the general population. EPA reports, however, indicate asbestos exposure could be more harmful to children. Students spend more time near asbestos containing-products such as floor tile. They also breathe at higher rates through the mouth, risking inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers.
National regulations require schools to take steps in addressing how they handle the toxic mineral. In 1986, congress passed the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), which amended the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
The act, regulated by the EPA, requires public schools to inspect buildings for asbestos-containing materials every three years. Schools must also prepare management plans that detail how they will remove it over time. These management plans are accessible to parents, teachers, and school employees.
Will Schools Ever Be Free of the Carcinogen?
As school buildings in the U.S. age, safety hazards like asbestos become eminent. According to an EPA report, nationwide AHERA inspections are low. Many regional districts are only checking for asbestos after receiving complaints.
Although the EPA is only responsible for inspections in a little over half of the states in the U.S., a lack of funding prevents proper oversight in states that conduct their own inspections. The absence of federal oversight increases the chance that schools let the risk for asbestos exposure go unnoticed.
With the combination of industry leaders lobbying for looser regulations and the absence of necessary funding for asbestos abatement, it may take decades before schools are free of asbestos.