Authorities Concerned Massachusetts Public School System Amiss in Addressing Asbestos Issues

Eliminating exposure to asbestos is the only sure way to prevent mesothelioma from developing. The terminal cancer is triggered when microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested where they burrow in for decades, eventually leading to cancer.

Unfortunately, authorities fear the aging of the Massachusetts’ public school system may contribute to an increased number of asbestos-related illnesses down the road.

Although asbestos is no longer used in construction, asbestos-containing materials were used throughout schools built prior to the 1980s. Asbestos is a human carcinogen, but if it is intact the material does not pose a risk. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure, and “the risk of school children being exposed to even low levels of asbestos is a concern.”

According to a Dec. 6 article in the Boston Globe, authorities are concerned that hundreds of Massachusetts public schools could still contain asbestos. But lack of funding has led to non-compliance of state and federal regulations designed to protect students and employees from asbestos exposure.

Under requirements set forth by the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) these asbestos-containing materials in schools must be managed in an undamaged and non-friable condition.

The spotlight was put on the Mass. school system after U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) sent a letter to all U.S. governors this year in an effort to assess the conformance of school systems to AHERA and to determine the extent of the presence of asbestos within the U.S. school system.

See “Government Raises Concerns Over State of Asbestos in U.S. Schools” to find out more about the initiative.

The Boston Globe reports the responses back from the school system was spotty, at best. Per the senator’s request, state officials surveyed Massachusetts’ 2,500 public, private, and charter schools. 1,054 responded, and of those, 30 percent reported still having asbestos-containing materials.

1,446 of the schools never responded, leaving the officials in the dark about the status of asbestos in those schools. Not only do they not know if asbestos is present, but the officials do not know whether school officials are monitoring or inspecting the schools for potential asbestos hazards.

“This is concerning,” said Brian T. Wong, chief of investigations and enforcement at the state Department of Labor Standards, which oversees compliance with asbestos laws in Massachusetts, according to the Boston Globe. “From what we see, the schools certainly aren’t doing all that they should.”

The EPA notes that inspecting the condition of asbestos materials in schools is extremely important so that changes in the material’s condition, such as damage or deterioration, can be detected and corrected before the condition worsens.

Wong reports the state no longer reimburses schools for the costs of conducting inspections and developing management plans leading the schools to put asbestos issues on the back burner.

“When faced with declining school budgets, teacher layoffs, and program cuts, compliance with [the asbestos law] was not their priority,” said Wong.

But in a statement from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, a spokeswoman said, “Maintenance issues, such as the presence of asbestos, are the responsibility of local officials,” placing the onus on the schools.

Mesothelioma is a terminal cancer caused by past asbestos exposure. 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with the cancer each year. Unlike many environmental toxins, asbestos has a long latency period taking between 15 and 60 years before an asbestos-related disease is diagnosed. Students exposed to the mineral face a life-long risk of developing mesothelioma.

If you or a family member has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer, or other asbestos-related disease, you need to speak with our trusted asbestos lawyers at Belluck & Fox, LLP today. Visit our law office in New York City now.

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