An unknown number of buildings in the United States still contain asbestos. In many cases, the asbestos is left in place because it is in a form that cannot easily become airborne or has been encapsulated rather than removed.
That being said, it's important to note that the dangerous material will eventually need to be removed from all structures. Buildings don't last forever, so removing asbestos is a question of "when" rather than a question of "if." Waiting to remove asbestos also has its costs. In many cases, building owners find themselves having to deal with asbestos issues at inconvenient times. When problems are discovered, they are also forced to wonder whether any of the building's occupants may have been exposed.
A good example is an elementary school in Centralia, Illinois. The building contains asbestos insulation, which the school district apparently already knew. Just before students returned for the start of the school year, however, it was discovered that mold is now growing on the asbestos.
The safety hazards posed by both mold and asbestos are such that staying in the school was not an option. Instead, classes will be held at a local church. Teachers were given just two days to grab whatever classroom materials they will need. The school will be closed at least through the end of September, and removal costs will total "hundreds of thousands of dollars," according to the school board president.
It seems as though other schools in Illinois are also facing asbestos scandals. As we wrote earlier this month, some Illinois construction companies may be paying about $2 million in fines for knowingly exposing workers to asbestos during the renovation of a former elementary school. Many of the exposed workers do not speak English.
Asbestos is slowly being removed from all buildings in the U.S., but the timeline of removal is unknown in many cases. Although building owners are reluctant to pay for the costs of removal right now, waiting until hazards are imminent could cost a lot more down the road.