EPA Watchdog Slams Agency’s Failure to Address Asbestos in U.S. Schools
WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency has failed to take the required and necessary steps under federal law to protect children from the dangers of asbestos exposure in the nation’s public and private schools, the agency’s internal watchdog said today.
The more than year-long investigation found that EPA had largely ignored its responsibilities under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986, or AHERA. The act requires, under the oversight of the agency, that all public school districts and private schools regularly inspect buildings for asbestos and take appropriate abatement actions when necessary.
Even though the EPA was responsible for conducting AHERA compliance inspections for the majority of states, it conducted fewer inspections overall than the states responsible for their own inspections. Specifically, from fiscal years 2011 through 2015, the EPA conducted 13 percent of AHERA inspections, whereas states with jurisdiction over their own inspections performed 87 percent.
Furthermore, EPA regions have either significantly reduced or eliminated resources for their asbestos program. Of the agency’s 10 regions, five only inspect for asbestos in schools when they receive asbestos-related tips or complaints. Without compliance inspections, the EPA cannot know whether schools pose an actual risk of asbestos exposure to students and personnel.
“Turning a blind eye to the risks to children from asbestos at school is tantamount to installing cigarette machines in the hallways,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “Congress should not confirm Alexandra Dunn to head EPA’s chemical safety office unless she commits to follow the law and help schools tackle this serious health threat facing an untold number of children.”
“It is reprehensible that EPA has ignored the asbestos in schools and disinvested in AHERA, thus exposing thousands of children and teachers to this deadly toxin. This report further proves that the EPA’s reckless mismanagement of AHERA and TSCA implementation ensures exposures will continue,” said Linda Reinstein, co-founder and CEO of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, or ADAO. “It’s time for Congress to keep our students and staff safe by enforcing AHERA and banning asbestos now. The EPA has failed Americans again.”
Under the 1986 law, EPA requires schools to:
- Perform an inspection to determine whether asbestos-containing materials are prsent and then re-inspect asbestos-containing materials in each school every three years;
- Develop, maintain, and update an asbestos management plan and keep a copy at the school;
- Provide yearly notification to parent, teacher, and employee organizations on the availability of the school's asbestos management plan and any asbestos-related actions taken or planned in the school;
- Designate a contact person to ensure the responsibilities of the public school district or the non-profit school are properly implemented; and
- Perform periodic surveillance of known or suspected asbestos-containing building material.
In 2015, a report by EWG Action Fund, a separate 501(c)(4) sister organization to EWG, documented the widespread threat of asbestos exposure in the nation’s schools and the failure by EPA and Congress to adequately address the risk it poses to students, faculty and school staff.
That same year, a separate Senate investigation by then-Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. and Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass. revealed serious failures by states and EPA to adequately protect students and teachers from asbestos in the nation’s schools.
Beyond the classroom, children continue to be exposed to asbestos through consumer goods. In 2007, ADAO found asbestos in toys, and in 2015, EWG Action Fund commissioned tests that found the notorious carcinogen in crayons and toy crime scene kits.
In 2016, President Obama signed legislation that finally gave EPA the authority to ban asbestos. But the Trump administration’s actions under the new law suggest that it will allow the use and importation of the substance to remain legal.