Report gives U.S. failing grade in protecting schools from asbestos

A new report details the danger of asbestos exposure in U.S. schools.

In 1980, the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced that asbestos exposure in U.S. schools was a "significant hazard to public health," according to a new 2015 report on asbestos in schools by Bill Walker of Asbestos Nation. Walker concludes, in essence, that the federal government's subsequent efforts to abate the danger to students, teachers and staff have failed miserably.

(EWG Action Fund, financed by the American Association for Justice, launched the Asbestos Nation campaign to raise awareness of the continuing danger of asbestos to American health.) According to the campaign, at least 10,000 in the U.S. die from asbestos-related injury and disease annually and, in a time when most people think the chemical has been either banned or its use severely curtailed, 8 million pounds has been imported into the country in the last 10 years.

Precisely what is the danger from asbestos exposure? Asbestos-related diseases can take decades to appear after exposure, which is not always even known to the victims, since the microscopic, deadly mineral is invisible to the eye and breathed in after it becomes airborne.

Asbestos is fire resistant and has been widely used in construction and insulation materials for many decades. When it is encased within a solid material, it is not unsafe, but when the material is broken or begins to deteriorate, the fibers are dangerously released into the air.

The most common diseases caused by asbestos are:

  • Mesothelioma, a fatal cancer of the linings of internal organs
  • Lung cancer, especially when combined with tobacco use
  • Asbestosis, or scarring of lung tissue curtailing breathing ability and oxygen levels

The report notes that the last time the EPA assessed asbestos in schools was in a 1984 survey sample that estimated 15 million students and 1.4 million teachers and staff were at risk of airborne asbestos fiber exposure in almost 35,000 schools. Citing the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's 2007 figure, Asbestos Nation reports that elementary school teachers are more than twice as likely to die from mesothelioma as other Americans.

According to U.S. and U.K. suspicions, children are thought to be at greater risk than are adults because kids are closer to the floor, have a higher breathing rate and do more mouth breathing.

While Congress passed laws in the 1980s to give schools expert advice and money to assess the danger, inspect buildings and safely abate the problem, the last congressional appropriation for the program was in 1993.

We all hear stories in the media about asbestos scares at U.S. primary and secondary schools, usually when fibers are released during construction or renovation, or even during vigorous scrubbing of surfaces like floor tiling. Removal or disturbance of asbestos-containing building materials should be only done if necessary and then by expertly trained and licensed personnel in accordance with applicable law and regulations when students and staff are not on the premises.

Sadly, asbestos exposures in schools can even be insidious. Illustrating similar issues in U.K. schools, the Daily Mirror in April 2015 reported about an art teacher who contracted mesothelioma from which she died at age 60 after years of pinning student art work to asbestos-containing walls and ceiling tiles.

Any teacher, staff member or student who has developed an asbestos-related illness or any family member who has lost a loved one to these diseases should contact an experienced personal injury attorney who handles asbestos litigation.

From Salisbury, North Carolina, the asbestos lawyers at The Law Offices of Wallace & Graham represent asbestos victims and their families across the nation.

Keywords: report, asbestos, schools, mesothelioma, EPA, cancer, asbestosis, lung, Asbestos Nation, teacher, student, children