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Parents 411 on Asbestos in Schools

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Parents 411 on Asbestos in Schools

  1. 1. Tri-Tech Building Hygiene Services a subsidiary of Freelance Enviro-Tech Services LLC Joseph Burley, Principal Consultant 248-721-8574 Freelance.enviro.tech@gmail.com asbestos •••• lead paint/hazardous materials •••• mold Asbestos in Schools… the 411 for Concerned Parents Many of the schools today are a product of the post-World War II baby boom. Buildings were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s with no thought of environmental health hazards. Domestic asbestos production was ramped up during World War II and the post- war surpluses made asbestos a useful and cheap ingredient for making building materials soundproof, fireproof and generally more durable. While it is well known that asbestos was used predominantly in spray-on sound-proofing and pipe insulation, it was also put into almost all types of building materials including floor tile, cove basic, window caulk and even more obscure items such as mirror glue. EPA regulations implemented in the late 1980s were designed to control the health hazards associated with the more "fluffy" and dangerous materials. Regulations were not adapted to deal with the less obvious uses of asbestos such as light shields and floor tile mastic. There is still widespread disagreement in the industry on how to safely remove these lower risk materials. Regulating asbestos has proved extremely difficult—the regulations are virtually unchanged from the original versions. Is there any other example where government hasn't been successful in passing new laws and updating regulations? Since 1988, older schools have been required to do a cursory inspection of the condition of asbestos every six months and a thorough inspection every three years. Is this approach working? The answer depends on the quality of the initial survey and subsequent inspections and the school's response. Generally speaking, in my experience the larger suburban public schools have done a better job of maintaining asbestos. Private schools and smaller inner city schools tend to give their asbestos program less attention. This inspector has observed asbestos dust on textbooks stored in closets, students poking pencils into asbestos pipe insulation and school contractors drilling through asbestos ceilings without any controls. In these cases, the schools were negligent in giving their asbestos maintenance program the proper attention. One of the most surprising aspects of the asbestos regulations in schools is that they are not explicitlydesigned to protect the children but rather the school employees. Why? There are two reasons. First, the risk of asbestos on children is unknown. Our understanding of the toxicology of asbestos derives mostly from asbestos installers, military personnel and asbestos mill workers. Due to the long period of time for exposure to result in symptoms (over 10 years), it is nearly impossible to assess health impacts to children from asbestos exposure. Second, most of the asbestos regulation comes from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which only regulates workplace and employee exposures.
  2. 2. Tri-Tech Building Hygiene Services a subsidiary of Freelance Enviro-Tech Services LLC Joseph Burley, Principal Consultant 248-721-8574 Freelance.enviro.tech@gmail.com asbestos •••• lead paint/hazardous materials •••• mold The fact that there are no reported cases of childhood disease attributed to school asbestos exposure should provide some comfort to concerned parents. In my experience, school workers are much more likely to be exposed to asbestos than students. However, as a parent, it is your right to known the location, condition, status and overall compliance of a school's asbestos program. Whether there is a perceived health benefit or just peace of mind, parents need to keep schools accountable for their asbestos management. Government enforcement of asbestos regulations in schools is threadbare and few schools are entirely compliant with the regulations. An informed and concerned parent may be the single best weapon for keeping schools "asbestos safe." Keep in mind that asbestos was commonly installed in homes as well. Before drilling or cutting through plaster or drywall at home, consider the age of the building and the possibility it could contain asbestos. Other common household forms of asbestos include stucco/ceiling spray-on, floor tile, duct insulation and cement siding. If there is any doubt, testing should be performed prior to disturbance of these materials.

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