If you were a kid growing up in the 50s, 60s, or even 70s, your school may have been one of thousands that was built during an era when we weren’t quite as concerned about the environment – and the effect of certain products on that environment – as we are now.
Schools built during that era, as well as in the early decades of the 20th century, were often constructed using asbestos-containing building materials, and now, as they begin to crumble, staff, faculty, and students may be paying for the disrepair with their health.
Each year, around the world as well as in the United States, reports surface about asbestos exposure in schools. It isn’t unusual to read about a school employee who, decades after encountering asbestos on a regular basis, is diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease.
It’s unlikely that any of these victims of school-related asbestos diseases ever suspected they might be exposed on-the job. And it’s not just a problem that’s disappeared with tighter asbestos-related legislation.
“The Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 1984 that 15 million students and 1.4 million teachers and school personnel were at risk of exposure to airborne asbestos, based on a sampling of 2,600 public and private schools,” reports a recent article in the Washington Post. “Two years later, Congress passed legislation requiring public and private schools to regularly inspect their buildings for asbestos, clean up any hazards and publicly report their actions. But no one knows how many schools now contain asbestos.” Washington Post
In addition, no one knows if schools around the country are complying with the asbestos rules that were set in place to protect students, teachers, and staff, says Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass). He also thinks that some school districts might need assistance in paying for asbestos abatement, which is why they don’t comply.
Markey and Senator Barbara Boxer of California recently contacted all fifty state governors to inquire as to how many districts in their states were following these nearly-30-year-old asbestos laws. Responses, they say, indicated that the rules were not being uniformly followed.
In the meantime, schools often have to shutter buildings when asbestos problems arise, adding to the further cost of abatement or encapsulation. But it’s truly the only way districts can be sure that everyone inside those buildings is protected, experts say.
“Everyone has asbestos, but they don’t want to deal with it,” noted Gina Clayton-Tarvin, president of the Ocean View, California, school board, in that same Washington Post article. “To abate it is absolutely astronomically expensive.”
That means those who work in U.S. schools that were built during the height of asbestos use need to be extra careful when encountering materials that could contain asbestos, including:
• Damaged floor tiles
• Damaged ceiling tiles or acoustic ceilings
• Old wallboard, drywall, and plaster
• Chipping paint
• Stage curtains
• Soundproofing materials
• Damaged pipe or boiler insulation
Janitors, teachers, administrators, or anyone who sees damaged materials that potentially contain asbestos should report these problems to the district. It’s also not unreasonable to ask to see the school’s asbestos plan. In accordance with EPA rules, every school should have one in place.
If you believe you were exposed to asbestos in a school setting and have now become ill with a related disease, contact an attorney to learn more about your rights as a victim.