Children in the United States are supposed to be attending schools that are safe, not only physically but environmentally. But like many large cities, Chicago’s aging public schools simply aren’t the healthiest environment for students, as was evident when a local news outlet recently determined that many of the mandates made about school asbestos removal or encapsulation several years ago still haven’t been accomplished.
A report recently aired on WTTW-TV discovered that dozens of school buildings have fallen through the proverbial cracks, with inspector recommendations made in 2013 and 2015 being totally ignored.
That means asbestos problems cited up to four years ago have likely gotten worse as any asbestos materials identified have potentially deteriorated further, causing more concern that the material will become airborne.
WTTW-TV, a Univision channel that largely serves the Hispanic community, noted that three schools in largely-Hispanic areas – Little Village’s Maria Saucedo Academy, Philip D. Armour Elementary School in Bridgeport and Humboldt Park’s Roberto Clemente Community Academy – have been virtually ignored, with Chicago Public Schools failing to remove or repair asbestos problems at those institutions after inspections demanded otherwise.
A similar story written last year by the non-profit Environmental Working Group also waged concern that only “a fraction of CPS schools” followed inspection requests to remove or encapsulate asbestos.
Likely, the problem comes down to lack of funds to tackle these often-expensive repairs to make public schools asbestos free. Nonetheless, the law demands that these problems be handled within a timely manner.
As a matter of fact, according to the EPA’s Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, school districts must “inspect their school buildings for asbestos-containing building material, prepare asbestos management plans and perform asbestos response actions to prevent or reduce asbestos hazards.”
There is some funding available through the EPA for such projects, under the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act.
Questions posed to Chicago Public Schools about this ongoing asbestos problem were not answered as of the time of the airing of this story.
Chicago, of course, is not alone as far as issues with asbestos in public schools are concerned.
Many cities plagued with aging school buildings have had a hard time keeping up with asbestos regulations. Unfortunately, however, this isn’t simply a matter of “we’ll get to it eventually”.
The longer old asbestos materials sit, the more “friable” they become. That means the asbestos is more apt to get dry and crumbly, a state in which it’s easier for tiny asbestos fibers to become airborne if the material is touched in any way.
Such friable asbestos puts individuals at risk, especially maintenance staff but also teachers, other staff members and – of course – students.
Parents of students and other concerned individuals should know that they have a right to ask to see their school’s asbestos maintenance plan to ensure that those inside the building are not being exposed.
Any concerns should be reported to the local EPA.
Cases of mesothelioma among teachers and other school employees have indeed been reported in the past and will likely continue until cities like Chicago are able to do what needs to be done to protect individuals from asbestos exposure.