Illinois School Districts Must Manage Asbestos Along With Renovations

Posted on March 29, 2016

East Aurora School District 131 and West Aurora School District 129 are about to undergo extensive renovations. But before that can happen, school officials must deal with asbestos, lead and other toxic materials, according to a  March 20 article in The Beacon News. Officials in the two school districts are aware of asbestos in some of the buildings, and have budgeted a significant amount of money to manage the hazardous materials.

Claire Barnett, executive director of the Healthy Schools Network, says when working with “old infrastructure” school districts should expect to face hazards, such as asbestos, and they should be aware of how to protect the student and teacher populations. Management and removal of asbestos requires certified contractors who adhere to specific guidelines and laws.

“(Construction) creates the highest possible risk for all occupants,” said Barnett. “The work has to be done, but it creates enormous risks.”

Asbestos is a building material that was widely used through the 1970s in hundreds of building products, including roofing materials, ceiling tiles and insulation. Potentially every area of an older school could have asbestos hiding within it. When asbestos becomes airborne and is inhaled, it can cause serious illness and has been directly linked to mesothelioma, a rare form of incurable cancer.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency points out that unless the material is friable, or crumbles or disintegrates when handled, no health risk is posed by the material.  Asbestos-containing materials, with few exceptions, are not currently banned in the United States and are still “managed-in-place” in schools. Under requirements set forth by the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act these asbestos-containing materials in schools must be managed in an undamaged and non-friable condition.

Aurora school officials note that some of the district schools previously underwent asbestos mitigation and remediation when repairs were made. The East Aurora district removed asbestos-containing materials, including floor tiles, in 25 classrooms at various schools. This year they will do the same in approximately 15 additional classrooms throughout the district.

“Unless you’re ripping it up, it’s not an imminent danger to safety,” said Angie Smith, West Aurora’s assistant superintendent of operations. “It’s just when you rip it up and it’s exposed, now you need to deal with it.”

The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act , a provision of the Toxic Substances Control Act, requires local education agencies to “inspect their schools for asbestos-containing building material and prepare management plans to prevent or reduce asbestos hazards.” The districts have maintained regular inspections to make sure the asbestos is not becoming a problem, according to the Beacon News.

It can take between 15 and 60 years after exposure to asbestos before an asbestos-related disease is diagnosed. Anyone exposed faces a life-long health risk. Nearly 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.

If you are concerned about asbestos in your child’s school, contact your school administrator. According to the EPA, your local school district/local education agency must nominate a “designated person” to perform and delegate, if necessary, the management of asbestos in a school building.