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Asbestos-Containing Materials Still Present in U.S. Schools, Posing Risk of Second-Hand Exposure

Asbestos Trust FundsAugust 2, 2012 – Over 76 million U.S. students in grades kindergarten through twelve spend seven hours or more each day in school buildings that have been built with asbestos-containing materialsAsbestos is a fibrous mineral commonly used in building materials and is also a known carcinogen.  Mesothelioma is a form of cancer of the lining of the lung, heart or abdominal cavity that comes from direct and second-hand asbestos exposure.  Approximately 2,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in the United States, and an estimated 10,000 people die each year from asbestos-related disease.  Despite these statistics, each day we continue to send our children into school buildings constructed of asbestos-containing building materials.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asbestos poses a health risk when the asbestos-containing materials are disturbed or damaged in some way and the dust that escapes becomes airborne, releasing the carcinogenic material.  When this dust is breathed in, the fibers can lay dormant in the lungs for 20 – 60 years before mesothelioma can develop.  Once mesothelioma is detected, there is no known cure for this always fatal cancer.

Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) Requires Asbestos Management Programs for Schools

Educational institutions are responsible for maintaining a safe and healthy environment for their students.  Removing asbestos-containing materials from the schools is a costly and very involved procedure.  Demolition of an existing structure could cause further risk to people in the surrounding areas because of the asbestos dust that would escape into the environment.  Identifying and properly maintaining and handling asbestos-containing materials allows for safe removal or demolition, but those involved must follow careful procedures when implementing what is referred to as, “in-place” asbestos management.

In 1986, the EPA responded to the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) by establishing asbestos management programs for schools throughout the United States.  AHERA requires that all educational institutions, including public, parochial, charter and private schools identify asbestos-containing materials in their buildings, and provide management programs for safe handling to limit exposure.  The EPA provides support to schools to help them comply with these regulations.

All schools with asbestos-containing building materials must comply with the federal regulations by implementing the following:

  • All facilities must be inspected by a licensed asbestos inspector, who is responsible for documenting all asbestos-containing materials located within the facility, and their current condition.
  • A licensed asbestos inspector must re-inspect the facility every three years, documenting any changes in the condition of the materials, and all measures taken to meet compliance requirements.
  • An asbestos management plan must be developed and be made available at the facility.
  • An individual within the facility must be selected as the official contact person that is responsible for ensuring that all requirements and documents are fulfilled.
  • The contact person must ensure that all people with an interest in the facility receive an annual reminder that the asbestos management plan is available for their review.  This notice would be sent to faculty, staff, and parents involved with the school.
  • The contact person must conduct its own inspection twice a year and document any and all changes in the asbestos-containing materials.  They must also record any actions taken to correct changes in the material.
  • All building and custodial staff must receive two hours of training in asbestos management within 60 days of hire.  If any member of the staff anticipates direct contact with the asbestos-containing materials, they must take an extended training course.
  • The contact person must also keep carefully maintained records that include:
    • Copies of all inspection reports
    • Copies of annual reminders sent out to all parties involved with the school on the availability of the asbestos management plan
    • Copies of the biannual self inspections and any actions taken in maintaining the materials on site
    • A current copy of the asbestos management plan
    • Documentation of all asbestos awareness training completed by employees
    • A dated “State of Operation and Activity” report

Schools and educational institutions that fail to fulfill the requirements mandated by AHERA face stiff penalties and possible civil suits. In addition, non-compliant schools may face difficulty in obtaining insurance coverage and experience significant obstacles if they try to sell the building in the future.

Compliance to AHERA Mandates Essential to Safe Environments in Schools

No one involved in the education of children wants to expose their students to hazardous materials or unhealthy conditions.  Because asbestos-related cancers and diseases can take 20 years or more to surface, the time to take action in protecting the nation’s children is now.  The Philadelphia asbestos attorneys at Shein Law focus their practice of law on asbestos exposure cases. If you believe that your child has, or is being subjected to second-hand asbestos exposure in school, we can help. Our asbestos attorneys will be able to investigate the measures your school is taking to comply with the safe handling and maintenance of asbestos-containing building materials, and help you feel confident that your child reports to a safe school environment each day. Call us today at 1-877-SHEINLAW (743-4652) or contact us online.

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