California District Questions Risks of Natural Asbestos

By Christina A. Samuels — February 07, 2006 1 min read

Schools in El Dorado Hills, Calif., are paying millions of dollars to remove or cover naturally occurring asbestos that poses no health risk, according to a report from a scientific research firm.

Vicki L. Barber, the superintendent of the 30,000-student El Dorado school district, and other officials from the area about 30 miles east of Sacramento, have traveled to Washington in a campaign to promote more study of the risks of naturally occurring asbestos, which is widespread in California.

During a December visit, they brought the report, written by the RJ Lee Group of Monroeville, Pa., a scientific consulting firm.

“Our basic request is, do good science,” Ms. Barber said. “It is way too costly not to have this done in a responsible manner.”

Asbestos can release needle-like particles that imbed themselves in the lungs and cause disease. The federal Environmental Protection Agency found the presence of naturally occurring asbestos in El Dorado Hills in October 2004, which required the school district to take efforts to mitigate potential exposure to the mineral. Ms. Barber said the mitigation has added $2.7 million to the cost of a new high school track and $5 million to the cost of a new high school.

Commissioned by the National Sand, Stone and Gravel Association, in Alexandria, Va., the RJ Lee review of the EPA report said it found several flaws in the federal agency’s investigation, which was released in May 2005. In news accounts, the EPA has responded that the RJ Lee report is reusing incorrect information that the firm had compiled on behalf of the construction industry to defend against asbestos-related lawsuits.