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Asbestos a lingering hazard in U.S. schools

Despite efforts to monitor and abate asbestos in schools, many schools still contain asbestos, potentially putting both students and teachers at risk for developing mesothelioma and other deadly diseases.

Nearly 40 years ago, in 1980, before many students were even born, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began an effort to eliminate asbestos from schools throughout the United States. By 1984, the EPA had identified 2,600 school districts that contained asbestos, potentially exposing 15 million students and 1.4 million teachers to asbestos fibers. That same year, Congress passed the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Act, which gave school districts the resources needed to assess the extent of the asbestos exposure risk and made grants and loans available to abate it. What happened?

While a number of schools did take advantage of the act, many did not. In 1986, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) was passed. It requires school districts and private schools to inspect their buildings every three years to assess the potential risk of exposure to asbestos and to take steps to remove it.

Kids face greater risks from asbestos exposure

Because the latency period for mesothelioma is so long, taking up to 50 years for the cancer to develop after exposure, it is believed that children at schools are at greater risk. Not only are they younger, giving mesothelioma a longer time to develop, but they are also more active. Their high level of activity means that they are more likely to be breathing more, potentially breathing in more airborne asbestos fibers.

Teachers are still getting sick

While recent numbers are not available, research conducted by the Environmental Working Group in 2004 revealed that 137 teachers died of mesothelioma between 1985 and 1999. Teachers are still vulnerable to disease from asbestos exposure. In 2007 an analysis of mesothelioma related deaths found that teachers are twice as likely to die from mesothelioma as other Americans.

Schools are not subject to OSHA asbestos exposure limits

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has regulations setting limits to asbestos exposure in the workplace. Currently the agency's permissible exposure level is 0.1 airborne fibers per cubic centimeters over an 8 hour workday.

Schools are not subject to these limits. Permissible levels of asbestos exposure are on a case by case basis. In some situations, because removing asbestos could release airborne particles, schools instead opt to cover or seal asbestos material to minimize the risk of exposure.

Individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma should contact an asbestos exposure attorney as soon as possible to evaluate their options for recovery.

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National Mesothelioma, Asbestos & Injury Law Firm

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