Asbestos Dust in Massachusetts Schools Calls Attention to Toxic Issue

The release of asbestos dust from disturbed aging ceiling tiles in a Falmouth, Cape Cod school has parents, educators, and school staff worried about the abundance of the toxic material in their places of education.

asbestos dust - state sealAccording to an article in the Cape Cod Times, five of the eight schools in the Falmouth School District contain a variety of asbestos materials. These are the older buildings, erected during a time when asbestos use was a normal occurrence and little or no thought was given to its dangers.

But despite the temporary closure of Teaticket Elementary School, prompted when asbestos ceiling tiles were damaged during maintenance work, the district says they are well aware of the problems associated with doing any sort of construction or renovation in buildings that contain asbestos.

In Falmouth, the school buildings include asbestos floor and ceiling tiles and the material can also be found in wall insulation and wrapped around pipes or boilers.

The district knows they need to budget for proper care or removal of these items, says district finance director Patrick Murphy.

“We always budget for it,” he told the newspaper. “It’s just a cost associated with having older buildings.” Marina Brock, senior environmental specialist with the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment, says that parents and staff shouldn’t worry about asbestos if the school is following EPA guidelines that were set forth in the late 1980s, demanding that all schools with known asbestos examine the material every 3 years for damage.

But if situations occur in between those inspections, schools need to address the problems pronto to avoid exposure.

Often, abatement of the offending materials is not the solution, she points out. Sometimes, the materials can be “enclosed” so that asbestos dust doesn’t permeate the air. But when removal of asbestos IS necessary, it can be quite costly for school districts.

At Teaticket Elementary School, where all ceiling tiles will be removed, that abatement will cost about $300,000. That price doesn’t include the cost of new tiles and installation.

Brock notes that about half of the schools in the U.S. were built between 1950 and 1970, the years during which asbestos use was most prevalent. That puts millions of children and others at risk of asbestos exposure on a daily basis, though hopes are that school districts have a handle on the asbestos issues in their buildings.

There have indeed been cases of mesothelioma reported among teachers in the U.S., though the disease seems to be more prevalent among educators in England and Australia, where rules about school asbestos weren’t put in place until just a decade ago.

Nonetheless, teachers, staff, and parents should know that they have a right to request their school’s Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) plans, which should indicate the location of any asbestos materials as well as specific plans for actions should exposure occur.

In addition, in accordance with the EPA guidelines, at least one designated person per school (often a maintenance/janitorial staff member) needs to be trained to handle asbestos-related activities in that school.