Survey Cites Continuing Asbestos Risk

July 27, 1983 2 min read

Washington--In a survey conducted two weeks before the Environmental Protection Agency’s June 30 deadline for the completion of school inspections for friable asbestos, the Service Employees International Union found that “it was impossible to determine” how many schools would meet the deadline.

85 Percent Attempted Inspection

“A strictly ‘educated guess’ is that perhaps 85 percent of public schools have attempted some sort of inspection; almost no information was available on the performance of private schools,” the survey says.

The epa inspection regulation, however, does not require that schools report to the agency when they have completed the inspection; an Education Department rule required states to keep records of which inspections had been completed.

“We’re not likely to get that information in any useful form for a while,” said Edward A. Klein, director of the chemical control program in epa’s toxic-substances division, referring to statistics on the number of schools that have been inspected for asbestos.

“We plan to conduct routine inspections, as we would for other rules, and a statistically valid survey of the percentages of compliance activities,” he said.

The agency will also compile available information on how schools are dealing with the asbestos problem, and how many schools located friable asbestos during their inspections, Mr. Klein said.

The union conducted the survey after learning of the death of a member, who had died of cancer “apparently caused by expo-sure to asbestos materials used in building the schools years ago,” according to John J. Sweeney, president of the union. The investigation sought to determine whether “asbestos is a danger in other schools,” he said.

The results of the union’s survey, based on data from 11 states that keep accurate records, suggest that about 10 percent of the schools in those states “are known to contain friable asbestos which is not being cleaned up or abated in any way,” according to its report.

Projecting that figure nationally, the report says, “It is therefore reasonable to assume that at least 3.24 million schoolchildren, as well as 648,000 school employees and teachers, are currently potentially exposed to hazardous asbestos.”

Eighteen states, the survey found, are violating the ed requirement to keep records of inspections and clean-up activities.

Strengthened Requirements

The union also notes that “a large percentage of the schools that attempted inspections to meet with the deadline did so prior to May 1982, when the epa issued new, strengthened inspection requirements--meaning that a large number of schools need to be re-inspected to determine the presence of friable asbestos material.”

Mr. Klein points out that some schools may have conducted inspections before that date, “but if they complied with the technical requirements of the rule before the rule went into effect, they didn’t have to redo it. If they didn’t take the right number of samples, they’d have to redo it. You couldn’t avoid the requirements of the rule if you’d done it wrong the first time."--sw

A version of this article appeared in the July 27, 1983 edition of Education Week as Survey Cites Continuing Asbestos Risk