Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that has been used throughout history for a variety of purposes and valued for its heat resistance, strength, and insulation properties. Exposure to asbestos can lead to a number of potentially fatal diseases, including mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer. Because asbestos was used heavily in construction until the very recent past, there is a good chance that asbestos is present in some form in your child’s school.
The asbestos fibers that are of the greatest concern are called friable asbestos, which is asbestos that can be broken apart by hand pressure. Friable asbestos may be present in boilers, pipe insulation, ceiling tiles, flooring, or wallboard in your child’s school.
In most cases, asbestos in schools poses very little health risk to students and teachers because it is not friable or loose. Authorities regularly inspect schools for any signs of damaged asbestos components that may release asbestos dust into the air. According to the EPA, asbestos that is not friable or damaged is best left alone because removing asbestos can create the potential for large amounts of the deadly fibers to be released into the air. Asbestos is still “managed in place” in thousands of schools in the United States, and this is most likely the case with asbestos that may be present in your child’s school.
When asbestos is managed properly, it does not present a health risk. As a resultof the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, passed by Congress in 1986, American schools are required to inspect their facilities for any materials containing asbestos and to develop management plans for how to deal with any asbestos found. Some asbestos management options include sealing asbestos products, enclosing them, covering them, removing asbestos, or keeping it in good condition so that no fibers are released. School districts are also required to inspect asbestos containing materials in schools every six months.
The EPA has worked in collaboration with the National Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), the National Education Association (NEA), and the Department of Education to provide parents and teachers with up-to-date information about the presence of asbestos in their schools and in schools in general. If you have more questions about asbestos in schools, you can contact any one of these agencies or consult your local health or environmental officials.