A new report from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) internal watchdog has shown that the agency hasn’t been properly monitoring asbestos in schools.
Between 2011 and 2015, the EPA only conducted 13% of the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) inspections it was required to perform nationwide. In five out of ten EPA regions responsible for this work only performed inspections in schools when they received complaints or tips related to asbestos.
An estimated one-third of all schools in the U.S. are contaminated with asbestos. It is the EPA’s responsibility to ensure that school districts are properly inspected for the substance and plans are put in place to manage it if asbestos is found.
No inspections were performed between 2012 and 2016 in EPA Region 6, which includes Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma. In EPA Region 7, which includes Iowa, Mississippi, Kansas, Nebraska and nine tribal nations, only six inspections were performed.
In buildings constructed before 1980, students and faculty are especially at risk for asbestos exposure. These buildings contain a range of asbestos building materials, which may easily crumble during maintenance work, demolitions and renovations.
Inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers can have serious health consequences later in life, such as the development of mesothelioma.
The review, which was conducted between April 2017 and May 2018, evaluated performance and data from both the Trump and Obama administrations. The National Program Manager Guidance for 2018-2019 no longer states how the resources “should be distributed or explicitly encourages regions to develop inspection and compliance plans.”
In response to the report, EPA managers said that the agency is “disinvesting” from the asbestos program largely due to competing priorities and resource limitations.
The EPA has been advised to require regions to begin incorporating asbestos strategies into their compliance monitoring and to inform local school districts of the need for asbestos management plans.