It’s a huge problem. Many school buildings in Minnesota were built before 1970, and that means that they’re full of products that contain asbestos. Floor tiles and linoleum, ceiling tiles, popcorn ceilings, wall plaster, pipe insulation and other forms of insulation often contain asbestos, some of them even now.
The good news is that these materials may not immediately be dangerous to the everyday user of the school. That is because asbestos generally poses little health risk unless it is damaged or disturbed. Then, the microscopic asbestos fibers can become airborne and lodge inside the lungs or other internal organs. When this happens, it can cause mesothelioma, lung-cancer, or other deadly diseases.
However, damage and disturbances happen. Schools are maintained, repaired and remodeled. New HVAC systems are put in and the old versions taken out. Floors, walls and ceilings get damaged by rambunctious kids.
Has anything been done to reduce the risk?
Yes. In 1986, Congress passed the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), which required the EPA to develop a plan for how to manage asbestos hazards in schools. The AHERA applies to virtually all K-12 schools, including non-profit private schools, charter schools and religious schools. Even when schools are merely renting or leasing their space, they are required to inspect the premises for asbestos-containing materials and implement a plan to manage the danger.
The AHERA requires Minnesota schools to take these actions:
- Initially inspect all school facilities for asbestos-containing materials and re-inspect them every three years
- Create and maintain an asbestos management plan and keep a copy readily available
- Notify parents, teachers and employee organizations annually about the school’s asbestos management plan and any abatement actions taken or planned
- Designate a responsible contact person to ensure these responsibilities are carried out
- Visually inspect any known asbestos-containing materials every six months
- Hire Minnesota-certified professionals to perform inspections, create management plans and conduct asbestos abatement
- Carry out the proper abatement action when more than 3 linear feet or 3 square feet of asbestos-containing materials are disturbed
- Provide custodial staff with asbestos-awareness training
It will take decades to remove all the asbestos-containing materials from our schools. It may take rebuilding every school. Even then, there are still materials that contain asbestos in use today.
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer or another asbestos-related disease, you have legal rights. The first step toward protecting them is to identify the likely source of your asbestos exposure. An experienced law firm can help.