Many schools built prior to the 1980’s used materials that contain asbestos, and still harbor asbestos-containing materials, leaving students and school workers at a potential risk for asbestos exposure. However, the U.S. government agencies know that with due diligence health emergencies can be avoided. To help avert any potential asbestos hazards and to protect school children and state workers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is giving money to the Oklahoma Dept. of Labor to assess the condition of asbestos in the state’s schools.
In a July 8 press release from the Region 6 Environmental Protection Agency, officials report the EPA awarded $202,970 to the Oklahoma Department of Labor in support of the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA).
AHERA, 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.”
Asbestos is a human carcinogen and is known to cause deadly cancers, including mesothelioma and lung cancer, when the fibers are inhaled or ingested. Although not everyone exposed develops these diseases, the EPA reports that there is no safe level of exposure.
In 2000, the Oklahoma Department of Labor (ODOL) assumed responsibility for enforcing the EPA’s AHERA in the state’s schools. The department reports that each year it sends inspectors out to schools to conduct audits and indentify non-compliance with the regulations.
Per ODOL, the local education authority of each school district must designate a person “who has a basic knowledge of health effects of asbestos, the detection, identification and assessments of asbestos containing materials, options for controlling asbestos-containing material, asbestos management programs and relevant federal and state regulations concerning asbestos,” to ensure that the asbestos management plan, as required by AHERA, is managed properly.
ODOL reports it will provide assistance to school officials to ensure compliance with the strict regulatory requirements. However, if the districts fail to comply with those requirements, they “will be subject to enforcement actions.”
The EPA reports that removal of identified asbestos is often not the best course of action to reduce asbestos exposure, as improper removal may create a dangerous situation where none previously existed. In the case of identified asbestos at schools, the EPA encourages “in-place management.” The agency only requires asbestos removal in order to prevent significant public exposure to asbestos, such as during building renovation or demolition.
The tragedy of mesothelioma is that the disease can be prevented by eliminating exposure. Once someone is exposed to asbestos, he or she faces a life-long risk of developing the cancer due to the extended incubation period of the disease – sometimes 60 years later. The officials in Oklahoma are commended for taking proactive steps for ensuring the safety of their students and teachers.
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. This person should be able to address any specific concerns you have about management of asbestos in your child’s school.