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Public and non-profit private schools have distinct regulatory requirements to protect school children and school employees from asbestos, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But that doesn’t mean they always know what’s happening in their school when it comes to asbestos exposure and abatement.

Take the Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach, CA, where during renovations that took place over the summer, workers encountered ceiling tiles made with asbestos, a known human carcinogen. Outraged parents and school board members complained, saying not only did they not know asbestos was found, but they weren’t notified of the removal process, which continued into the school year—and, they said, compromised student safety. The work was halted last week.

Under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, signed into law in 1986, all school districts are required to identify an individual to be trained in asbestos management oversight and to prepare an asbestos management plan that includes annual notifications to parents, teachers, and employees about their plans to prevent or reduce asbestos hazards. Plans must include a baseline inspection, a full re-inspection every three years, and surveillance of asbestos-containing materials every six months. Parents can request to view a copy of plans and asbestos inspection documentation, which must be kept at each school. Districts have five days to comply with the request.

No amount of asbestos exposure is safe

If asbestos is discovered on school grounds and exposure is determined to be a health risk, all occupants must vacate the building in which asbestos is discovered. That’s what one school did in Orange, CT, when it moved all students to Yale University’s campus while asbestos abatement was performed (they returned last month). Many districts complete asbestos removal over the summer when school is not in session.

School officials in Bedford, NY, proactively approached asbestos removal in their district. After an environmental inspection revealed trace amounts of asbestos in ceiling tiles in three different school buildings, the district applied state funds from their capital projects budget toward the asbestos removal, completing the project prior to the start of the next school year.

Routine testing is critical to maintain safety in schools, says Peter Shannon, licensed asbestos inspector, abatement planner and project monitor at RTK Environmental Group, an environmental testing services firm that performs asbestos testing.

“When undisturbed and in intact condition, in most cases, building materials containing asbestos are relatively harmless,” he said. “But during renovations, asbestos dust and fibers can become airborne—and no amount of asbestos exposure is safe.” Parents should be checking in with their school officials to ensure all proper procedures are being followed, he suggested.

The RTK Approach to Asbestos Testing

RTK’s asbestos inspectors are licensed by the Department of Public Health and AHERA-certified, says Shannon. “Our experts have years of experience inspecting residential, commercial, and school properties to locate asbestos and monitor its removal. We’ll help confirm that students, teachers, and families in the community are no longer threatened by asbestos in their schools. And because we don’t offer abatement services, parents can be assured we are focused on providing an unbiased assessment of potential health risks.”

To learn more about RTK’s approach, click here.

For more information on school compliance with AHERA, click here.

To schedule an RTK asbestos inspection, call (800) 392-6468.

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