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Asbestos in schools remains both a hazard and a mystery

This blog has repeatedly discussed the hazard posed by asbestos-containing products in older buildings. An especially dangerous hazard is posed by asbestos products in schools. Congress passed two measures intended to ascertain the scope of and abate this hazard, the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Act of 1984 and the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986. In spite of broad language that required local education agencies to inspect schools for asbestos-containing products, develop plans to manage and remove the hazard, and create plans for continued monitoring, the actual extent of asbestos in schools remains largely unknown.

Two senators, Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, sent letters of inquiry to all 50 states in an effort to determine what efforts have been made to fulfill the goals of the two statutes. Only twenty states submitted a response, but a report based on these responses was published by Sen. Markey's office in December.

The Report's most important finding is that asbestos product exposure in school buildings still poses a widespread hazard, but the exact extent of the hazard is difficult to ascertain. The responses to the Senate survey indicate that about 2/3 of America's schools still contain asbestos products but no one can pinpoint the exact number or the kinds of asbestos products that remain. The second critical finding was that the states do not appear to be monitoring, investigating or addressing this hazard. The study also found that states do not conduct regular inspections or keep track of asbestos in school buildings. The Report recommended legislation to require school agencies to update and maintain their records regarding buildings where asbestos-containing products are still present. The Report also recommends that school agencies publish their data so that the public has easy access to it.

Whether the Report's recommendations will stir legislative action remains to be seen. No matter what happens, the Report shows that asbestos still poses a significant health hazards for students and workers who occupy these buildings on a daily basis.

Source: United States Senate, "Failing the Grade: Asbestos in America's Schools," staff of Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Dec. 2015, accessed on Dec. 29, 2015

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