E.P.A. Orders Asbestos Inspections For Public, Private School Buildings

By Thomas Toch — June 02, 1982 3 min read
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The amount of a dangerous type of asbestos in each public and private school in the nation will have to be determined within a year, under a regulation adopted last week by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Asserting that “it [is] highly likely that exposure to asbestos in schools may increase the risk of developing numerous types of cancer,” EPA announced in the May 27 Federal Register that, with some exceptions, all public and private schools must be inspected for “friable"—crumbling to the touch—asbestos by June of 1983.

The regulations also require the analysis of samples of material suspected of containing asbestos. And if asbestos is found, the federal environmental agency will require schools to notify employees and parents or parent groups and to tell them how they can limit exposure to the asbestos.

Records must be kept of the entire procedure.

The regulation does not require school districts to remove asbestos from any school building. Nor does it require the results of the asbestos surveys to be reported to the EPA

The agency estimates that in a school where asbestos is found, the average cost of the inspection, testing of samples, and notification will be just under $300. For schools where asbestos is not found, EPA predicts the cost will be lower. The total cost of the inspection program, the agency says, will be approximately $4.7 million.

EPA had been under attack for several months from Democratic critics in Congress, who accused the Reagan Administration of trying to kill the regulation, which was first proposed in the fall of 1980 by the Carter Administration.

Mandatory Program Needed

The mandatory asbestos-inspection program is needed, the EPA said, because many school districts have failed to participate in a similar voluntary inspection program operated by the agency since 1979.

The agency estimates that up to 40 percent of the nation’s 100,000 public and private schools have never been inspected for asbestos and that as many as 14,000 of those schools may have quantities of potentially dangerous asbestos in them.

In addition, EPA has estimated that three million students and 270,000 teachers and other employees regularly use the 8,600 public schools thought to contain asbestos.

EPA Regional Offices

Local school officials seeking information about the mandatory asbestos-inspection program are urged by EPA to contact the asbestos coordinator at one of the following Environmental Protection Agency regional offices:

Region I Air and Hazardous Materials Division J.F.K. Federal Bldg. Boston, Mass. 02203 (617) 223-0585

Region II Room 1013 Woodbridge Avenue Edison, N.J. 08837 (201) 321-6668

Region III Curtis Bldg. Sixth and Walnut Streets Philadelphia, Pa. 19106 (215) 597-9859

Region IV 345 Courtland Street Atlanta, Ga. 30365 (404) 881-3864

Region V 230 S. Dearborn St. Chicago, Ill. 60604 (312) 886-6003

Region VI First International Bldg.
201 Elm Street Dallas, Tex. 75270 (214) 767-2734

Region VII 324 East 11 Street Room 1500 Kansas City, Mo. 64106 (816) 374-6538

Region VIII 1860 Lincoln Street Denver, Colo. 80295 (303) 837-3926

Region IX 215 Fremont Street San Francisco, Calif. 94105 (415) 974-8123

Region X 1200 Sixth Avenue Seattle, Wash. 98101 (206) 442-2888

In addition, EPA has a toll-free telephone number, (800) 334-8571, ext. 6741, for school districts needing information about the asbestos-inspection program.

From the end of World War II until the early 1970’s, materials containing asbestos were commonly used for fireproofing, insulation, and decoration in many school buildings across the country.

When asbestos crumbles, it sends light, extremely buoyant fibers into the air, where they remain suspended for long periods of time, making them easy for people to inhale. The inhalation of these fibers has been proven to cause lung cancer and other severe respiratory diseases.

In 1973, the EPA banned the use of sprayed-on fireproofing and insulation that contained more than 1-percent asbestos; in 1978, it banned the spraying of asbestos-containing materials for any purpose.

The regulation allows several exemptions from the EPA mandatory-inspection program.

For example, schools that have already checked for asbestos and found none (based on at least three samples), are required only to certify their findings; schools that have found asbestos need only to carry out the record keeping and notification requirements.

Schools are also exempt when documents can be produced proving that no asbestos has been used in any building materials in the school. Schools that have already removed asbestos and schools built after December 31, 1978—the date EPA banned the use of building supplies containing asbestos—are also exempt from the regulation.

The EPA says that in most cases in which asbestos is found, it will not have to be removed in order to ensure the safety of students and staff. The agency will send information suggesting when asbestos should be removed, although the regulation leaves decisions about removal up to individual school districts.

EPA does not have estimates of the cost of removing asbestos from schools, according to Suzanne M. Rudzinski, head of the agency’s school-asbestos program.

Regulations Abandoned

Other regulations that would have required school districts to remove or cover exposed asbestos were abandoned in April, 1981, because, according to an EPA official, the agency does not have a reliable means of determining what amount of asbestos in the school environment constitutes a danger.

U.S. Representative James J. Florio, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Transportation, and Tourism—which oversees EPA—said last week that he was “pleased that the regulation finally came out” and that it was “basically sound.”

During a hearing in March, Mr. Florio attacked EPA officials for deliberately attempting to delay enactment of the rule.

A version of this article appeared in the June 02, 1982 edition of Education Week as E.P.A. Orders Asbestos Inspections For Public, Private School


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