What Parents Need to Know About Asbestos in Schools

August 30, 2021

As a parent, you have the task of protecting your children from a world rife with dangers and pitfalls, but you don’t expect to have to worry about your children’s school buildings. Unfortunately, most school buildings in the United States contain asbestos. Once the go-to material for fire-resistant insulation, asbestos has since fallen out of favor due to its high toxicity which can cause cancer in humans.

It’s critical to understand how the presence of asbestos in a school building could impact your child’s health. Find out what you can do to keep your kids safe and how to take legal action if necessary. 

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral. Favored for its resistance to fire, it can provide insulation for homes, offices, and schools. Forty-five percent of U.S. schools were built between 1950 and 1969 when asbestos was routinely used in building construction.

The parts of a school building that most commonly contain asbestos include ceiling tiles, wallboard, cement sheets, and vinyl flooring. Pipe insulation, textured paint, popcorn ceilings, and ductwork may also have asbestos.

Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act

In 1986, Congress passed the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) due to mounting evidence regarding the risks associated with asbestos exposure. The new law requires local educational agencies, such as public boards of education, to conduct inspections of school buildings for materials containing asbestos, prepare plans for managing asbestos, and perform response actions to reduce the hazards caused by asbestos.

Under the AHERA, the EPA is responsible for conducting inspections for the majority of states. The EPA has consistently failed to meet its obligations under this law, according to a report by the Office of Inspector General. States either have control over their inspections or are under EPA jurisdiction.

Between 2011 and 2015, the states that had control over their jurisdiction performed 87% of compliance inspections. The EPA, however, completed only 13% of AHERA inspections. This lack of federal oversight in most of the U.S. increases the risk that asbestos-containing materials and exposure are not addressed correctly.

As a result, it’s crucial to conduct research and ensure that the relevant authorities have inspected the school you enroll your children in.

Who is Liable?

Typically there is more than one defendant in an asbestos lawsuit because the fault lies with multiple companies or public entities. For example, if a product in the school contains asbestos, the product manufacturer may be held liable for a breach of warranty because the buyer assumes the product is safe when purchasing.

However, if a school fails to perform the required AHERA inspections every three years, resulting in an unsafe environment for teachers and students, you may have a case for negligence against the Board of Education.  

How to Prove Asbestos Exposure

If you or a loved one have been exposed to asbestos and are suffering an asbestos-related disease as a result, such as mesothelioma (a form of cancer), you can prove this with a diagnosis from a physician.

The source of asbestos exposure can be determined by examining the school’s asbestos management plan. If a local educational agency failed to properly inspect school buildings under its jurisdiction for asbestos-containing materials or failed to address or maintain existing asbestos, the agency violates the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act. Ask your lawyers how they can help you compile evidence against the responsible institution.

Asbestos in Buildings

Asbestos exposure can have numerous health-related consequences, from asbestosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to lung cancer and mesothelioma caused by its microscopic fibers. While asbestos is an unsafe building material, the danger is at its greatest when you’re exposed to asbestos over a prolonged period or in high concentrations.

Despite these risks, if the asbestos in buildings isn’t disturbed, the EPA considers the risk low. However, as many schools that contain asbestos are beginning to fall into disrepair or the asbestos insulation is deteriorating, the risk increases. In recent years, there have been numerous Louisiana asbestos lawsuits by defendants exposed to asbestos under various circumstances.

What You Can Do

As almost half of the school buildings in the U.S. were constructed more than half a century ago, before the hazards of asbestos were widely known, you need to remain vigilant regarding the age and condition of your children’s school. You must determine which inspection jurisdiction the school falls under and contact the school administrator regarding its asbestos management plan. Every school is legally required to provide you with a copy of its plan within five days.

The management plan should detail when the school was inspected and whether asbestos was discovered. If there was asbestos, there should be information regarding how the school plans to manage asbestos-containing materials to ensure the safety of students, faculty, and staff. 

If asbestos-containing materials are in reasonable condition, the plan will detail how the school intends to maintain them and whether encapsulation, enclosure, or removal is necessary. Although they sound similar, encapsulation is when a construction crew sprays the asbestos insulation with a sealant to prevent the material from shedding dangerous fibers. In an enclosure, the construction crew builds a physical barrier around the asbestos, providing an airtight seal.

Removal is not always necessary, provided the asbestos isn’t exposed or deteriorated.

The Bottom Line

Although asbestos is no longer commonly found in building materials due to the health hazards it poses, it lingers in many school buildings nationwide. If undisturbed, the risk to students and teachers is minimal. However, if you or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos due to improper maintenance or renovation, you may be entitled to personal injury compensation.

The health-related consequences of concentrated or long-term asbestos exposure can be debilitating and expensive. You deserve justice, and our Louisiana mesothelioma lawyers can help. Contact Dudley DeBosier Injury Lawyers for more information or schedule a free consultation at no obligation.