Methods for dealing with the issue of asbestos in U.S. schools are addressed in the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), a provision of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) passed in 1986.
The Act, which operates under the auspices of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), provides that all U.S. schools at any educational level, whether public or private: perform initial and 3-year inspections of all asbestos-containing material (ACM); develop and maintain an asbestos plan, with one copy kept at the school; provide yearly notification to parents, teachers and employees regarding the plan and any asbestos abatement actions taken or planned at the school; designate a contact person to liaise between the school and the school district; perform periodic inspections of ACMs; hire only licensed professionals to conduct inspections and remediations, and prepare management plans; and insure that maintenance staff have taken asbestos-awareness training.
In Leonia, New Jersey, School Superintendent Bernard Josefsberg came under the gun for failing to inform parents that asbestos abatement had taken place over the weekend of May 15 at Anna C. Scott Elementary School.
E-mails to the Board of Education were irate, with some parents accusing Josefsberg and the school board of covering up possible safety risks. Unfortunately, according to reports, these were not the same parents who attended the subsequent two meetings Josefsberg held to “heal the wounds” created by his failure to communicate – a failure he himself acknowledged, though he insisted that the abatement did not represent a safety risk to students.
Josefsberg was supported during the Monday meetings by ABS Environmental spokesperson Scott Higgins, who agreed that there was nothing irregular or unsafe about performing asbestos remediation over a weekend, even while school was still in session, since air quality testing was performed to determine there were no free-floating asbestos fibers before the school opened again on Monday.
Asbestos fibers can cause a number of asbestos-related illnesses, including asbestosis (a chronic respiratory disease similar to emphysema), lung and digestive system cancers, and malignant mesothelioma, a uniquely lethal cancer of mesothelial tissues that typically lies dormant for up to five decades before revealing itself, through various symptoms.
Mesothelial tissues are linings that surround and protect internal organs like the lungs, heart, stomach and intestines. Because asbestos fibers are not removed by the circulatory or lymphatic systems, like many other toxins, but persist in the body, they cause irritations which can ultimately lead to mesothelial tumors.
These tumors are not only aggressive in the latter stages, but highly invasive. By the time mesothelioma is diagnosed, the typical prognosis is about a year to live – a prognosis not greatly improved by surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy, though those treatments can improve breathing and reduce pain.
The rest of the abatement at Anna C. Scott school will be postponed until summer vacation, according to Josefsberg. The abatement is part of a capital project that also expects to replace the school’s HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system), and delaying it may add another $150,000 to $200,000 to the cost, Josefsberg claims.
In addition, the HVAC replacement may mandate further asbestos remediation work during the 2010-2011 school year, even when students are present.
To appease parents, the school has formed a construction safety committee headed by school nurse Linda Bernard, and staffed by several teachers and administrators, which will keep track of construction activities and send out AHERA-mandated notifications as work progresses.
Sources: NorthJersey.com, EinpressWire.com