Did you know that 65% of schools across Scotland contain asbestos? Though alarming, Scotland isn’t the only place with an asbestos problem in its schools. In the U.S., any school built before 1981 likely contains asbestos. This means that more than 50 million public school students alone could be at risk this fall, and millions more who will be attending private schools. Even newer schools could contain the deadly mineral because asbestos is still legal in the U.S.
Though the belief among regulators is, in general, materials containing asbestos that are not disturbed or deteriorated do not pose a health risk and can be left in place, in Chicago alone, a 2013 inspection revealed that more than 600 locations at more than 180 schools had damaged asbestos that needed repair or removal. As of fall 2015, just 11 of those schools had taken any of the recommended actions to reduce potential exposure. And that’s just one city out of more than 35,000 recognized cities and towns across the U.S.
So What’s Being Done About It?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that both public and non-profit private schools have “distinct regulatory requirements to protect school children and school employees from asbestos exposure,” beginning with the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA). AHERA and its regulations “require public school districts and non-profit schools including charter schools and schools affiliated with religious institutions to inspect their schools for asbestos-containing building material and prepare management plans and to take action to prevent or reduce asbestos hazards,” says the agency.
“These legal requirements are founded on the principle of "in-place" management of asbestos-containing material. Removal of these materials is not usually necessary unless the material is severely damaged or will be disturbed by a building demolition or renovation project.
Personnel working on asbestos activities in schools must be trained and accredited in accordance with The Asbestos Model Accreditation Plan. In addition, if removal of asbestos during renovation is warranted, or school buildings will be demolished, public school districts and non-profit schools must comply with the Asbestos National Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), which is regulated under the Clean Air Act.”
Protecting Your Children
Under current regulation, “parents, teachers, and school employees, or their representatives, have the right to inspect the school’s asbestos management plan. Schools are required to notify parent-teacher organizations (such as PTAs) once a year about the availability of the school’s asbestos management plan and asbestos-related activity taking place within the school. The school must make the plan available for inspection within five working days of it being requested.”
Fortunately, some state and local agencies may have stricter standards than those required by the Federal government, so if you think your child’s school might contain asbestos, get in touch with your state and local health departments immediately.
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