Few Schools in Full Compliance With Asbestos Rules, Survey Finds

By Lynn Olson — October 31, 1984 7 min read
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Most of the schools that contain friable asbestos are trying to cover or remove it, but few schools have complied fully with federal regulations, according to a national survey released last week by the Environmental Protection Agency.

On the basis of a sample of 1,800 public-school districts and 800 private schools, the survey estimated that some 1.4 million school employees and 15 million students, or 34 percent of all students nationwide, spend their days in schools that contain friable asbestos.

Earlier estimates by the U.S. Education Department suggested that fewer than half as many students and employees were exposed to friable, or crumbling, asbestos.

The researchers found materials containing friable asbestos in 35 percent of all the schools inspected. If that finding holds true nationally--as the researchers believe it does--then more than 30,000 schools contain the potentially hazardous material.

Compliance Document

The epa undertook the most recent study to determine how many school districts had complied with its rule requiring them to inspect for friable asbestos and to notify parents and school employees when such material was found.

The agency also wanted to determine the scope of the asbestos problem in schools and to examine the methods they are using to inspect for, contain, or remove asbestos-laden materials, the report stated.

According to Joseph A. DeSantis, chief of the special-hazards-abatement branch within the epa, the agency is trying to decide whether it wants to modify its asbestos pro6gram in any way. The survey, he said, is “an important piece of information” that the agency will use in making that decision.

Westat Inc. and Battelle Columbus Laboratories, two private consulting firms, carried out the survey between December 1983 and February of this year under a contract with the agency. In addition to conducting telephone interviews with officials in each public-school district and private school selected for the survey, the firms conducted on-site inspections in eight metropolitan areas, which included 73 public and 21 private schools.

Nationwide Estimates

The survey’s findings were then extended to provide estimates for the 32,946 public and private education agencies in the country that contain at least one school built before January 1979. (The survey de-fined local education agencies for public schools as school districts or central-city offices in large cities that reported for more than one school district, and local education agencies for private schools as individual schools or, in some instances, governing bodies that reported for more than one school.)

The 1979 cutoff date was picked because since that year the epa has banned the use of construction materials containing more than 1 percent asbestos, the report said.

A spokesman for John A. Moore, epa’s assistant administrator of the pesticides and toxic-substances division, said that the survey’s compliance information is out of date because more districts have complied since it was completed.

Problems With Compliance

The report estimated that of the 32,946 local education agencies with at least one school built before January 1979, only 11 percent were in compliance with all aspects of the epa’s inspection and notification rule by January of this year.

Approximately 83 percent of the local education agencies had begun or completed inspections for asbestos by that time. And 34 percent had complied with most aspects of the rule, according to the survey.

But the survey found that “inspection and documentation were problem areas of significant noncompliance” with the epa’s inspection and notification rule.

A large number of schools and school districts failed to document their inspection results properly or to notify school employees and parents when friable asbestos was found. For local education agencies that found friable asbestos materials, “failure to notify employees and/or parents was by far the most prominent reason for noncompliance,” the report said.

The report noted that although most local education agencies are instructing schools with friable asbestos to notify employees and parents, “some schools are reluctant to notify parents ... when friable materials are limited to pipe wrap in boiler rooms.”

Overall, 45 percent of the local education agencies reported that friable materials were limited to pipe wrap in boiler rooms. According to the report, access to these rooms is usually limited to custodial and maintenance personnel.

“However, asbestos fibers released from insulation can be transported to other areas of a school and is therefore of concern,” the report noted.

For local education agencies in general, the most frequent problems were taking fewer than three bulk samples to test for friable asbestos, and failure to use the proper epa forms.

An earlier epa survey of 275 local education agencies estimated that two-thirds of the districts surveyed were not complying with some part of the rule.

Failure to Notify

Only 4 percent of local education agencies with at least one school containing friable asbestos were in compliance with all aspects of the identification and notification rule by January, the survey found. An additional 21 percent were in compliance with most aspects of the rule.

Nineteen percent of these agencies failed to comply because they did not complete inspections of all their schools, 20 percent because they did not document inspection results, and 13 percent for more than one reason.

Of those agencies that failed to comply with most aspects of the rule, 31 percent failed because they did not notify employees or parents of the presence of asbestos.

Problem Underestimated

The report cautioned that the survey may have underestimated the number of schools with asbestos-containing friable materials for several reasons.

School officials, the report noted, are not sure whether to report friable materials that have been covered with a sealant or enclosed.

In addition, on-site inspections by the firms that prepared the epa report revealed that local education agencies, in their own inspections, missed friable materials in 25 out of 90 schools. In 20 of these schools, the friable material was in school boiler rooms.

“This suggests,” the report said, “that [local education agencies] do not realize that boiler rooms require inspection.”

Cleaning Up Asbestos

The survey estimated that 44 percent of the schools that contained friable asbestos had completed activities to isolate or remove the material from their buildings. Another 23 percent were in the process of such activities, and 23 percent were planning such activities for the future.

However, 11 percent of the schools with friable asbestos-containing materials had no plans for abatement, according to the survey.

Twenty-nine percent of the local education agencies with friable asbestos were using removal as the sole method of abatement. Another 28 percent were leaving the material as is and were using special operations and maintenance procedures and periodic reassessments as the sole method of abatement. The remaining education agencies were using more than one method of control.

The epa spokesman said it was impossible to tell from the survey whether individual schools and school districts had chosen the most appropriate method to clean up asbestos in their buildings.

Square Footage Estimated

Some 30 million square feet of friable asbestos-containing materials have been removed from schools, the survey found; 44 million square feet have been encapsulated using a sealant; and almost 6 million square feet have been enclosed in an airtight, impact-resistant barrier.

The survey estimated the average cost of removal at $3.34 per square foot, of enclosure at $3.99 per square foot, and of encapsulation at $2.65 per square foot. However, the report noted that the estimates were rough.

Technical Assistance

Thirty-one percent of the local education agencies that had begun or completed inspections for asbestos by last January used the epa’s technical-assistance program, which consists of a toll-free telephone number, regional technical
advisors, and written guidelines for conducting inspections. About 94 percent of those who used the agency’s technical-assistance services said that those services met their needs, the survey found.

According to the agency spokesman, the epa is working to expand its technical-assistance program.

This year, it will open three regional centers to provide detailed information regarding the inspection, isolation, and removal of asbestos. Officials are also planning several pilot programs to certify contractors to work on asbestos-related problems, and hope to expand both the number of centers providing technical assistance and the certification programs within the next few years, the spokesman said.

The agency currently does not plan to change its existing rule to clarify problems described in the survey results (such as a failure to report friable asbestos that had already been enclosed or sealed off), the spokesman said.

Periodic Re-Inspection

epa officials are considering issuing a rule requiring periodic re-inspection of asbestos in schools. The spokesman said that at that time, the agency would consider clarifying any ambiguities regarding its existing rule.

Mr. DeSantis, however, said that the agency is now trying to evaluate the question of whether or not there should be any revisions in the identification and notification rule.

A version of this article appeared in the October 31, 1984 edition of Education Week as Few Schools in Full Compliance With Asbestos Rules, Survey Finds


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