Once considered a near miracle-product, asbestos can be found in almost every school built in the mid-20th century. While it is well-known that schools throughout the country contain asbestos, school districts do not proactively remove it. Asbestos is dangerous when fibers become airborne. Asbestos-containing materials that are in good repair generally do not expose people to asbestos dust. Combined with the cost of removal, school districts usually only remove asbestos when it is essential to do so.
Unfortunately, many schools are getting older, and some are in bad repair. Approximately half of the nation’s schools were built between 1950 and 1970, when asbestos use was at its peak.
The combination of the age of the school, budget concerns over repairs and the ubiquity of asbestos throughout school buildings can lead to children, teachers and staff being exposed.
An Example from Philadelphia
The fear of exposing children to asbestos is well-founded. For example, The Philadelphia Inquirer recently ran an informative and disturbing investigative report on asbestos in the Philadelphia School District. According to the Inquirer, dust samples taken at several schools throughout the district revealed asbestos fibers – the kind that children can inhale. The number of asbestos fibers found were well past recommended levels.
The Philadelphia School District recently stated its intent to undertake the removal and repair of its schools contaminated with loose asbestos. Unfortunately, it is not clear how long children have been exposed to asbestos. Teachers, janitorial staff and others may also have faced prolonged exposure.
Sadly, teaching is now also an increased risk factor for developing mesothelioma, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Asbestos Exposure Is a National Problem
While the Philadelphia School District provides a stark example, it is by no means unique in having a significant amount of asbestos to deal with. As schools continue to deteriorate, and some districts face difficult budget choices, it is easy to imagine this is a situation that will continue to arise.