What Parents Must Know About Asbestos in Schools and Risks to Their Children
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), most public, primary, secondary and charter schools contain asbestos. It was most commonly used in insulation and construction materials that are still in place today. It can be in floor or ceiling tiles, pipes and fireproofing components. Before you go into a panic, you should know that as long as the asbestos is undisturbed, it shouldn’t pose a health risk to your child or to teachers and staff that work in the school.
When Asbestos in Schools Is Dangerous
Asbestos becomes dangerous when it is able to be breathed in – this happens when materials age and begin to crumble and are exposed to the open air. If a material that contains asbestos becomes “friable” it can release asbestos fibers into the air that can pose a deadly health risk. Friable means that something can be crumbled with only the pressure of the hand. Even materials that usually don’t break down and become friable on their own (like vinyl flooring or drywall) can release fibers when they are sanded (see also top asbestos myths)
Situations Where Asbestos in Schools is Particularly Dangerous
The simple presence of asbestos in a school is usually not enough to impact the health of students, teachers and staff so long as it remains contained, but when it is disturbed, that’s when the danger begins. Occurrences of repairs, maintenance, removal and fire damage are the most dangerous circumstances and can pose grave health risks.
These activities can release asbestos fibers into the air that can be breathed in and cause damage. The frightening part is that even a small exposure can result in devastating illness but you won’t know until decades later because asbestosis, mesothelioma and other asbestos-induced diseases are slow gestating illnesses that are typically not diagnosed until late stages when they are much more difficult to treat.
What Should You Do As a Parent to Protect Your Child from Asbestos in Schools?
By law, your school system must notify parents, teachers and school employees of any asbestos-related activities including inspection or abatement (removal). Pay close attention to these notices. If your school has activities planned during the school year that will disturb asbestos, you may want to consider keeping your child home from school that day(s).
If the work will be ongoing, you may even want to consider requesting that your school system allow your student to transfer schools or home school your child until the work is completed. There are no take-backs on asbestos exposure and it doesn’t make sense to put your child’s health at risk no matter what assurance the school system is offering. Asbestos is deadly. Period.