Environmental Health in Schools—Asbestos

Asbestos is the name given to a number of naturally occurring fibrous minerals with high tensile strength, the ability to be woven, and resistance to high heat and most chemicals. Because of these properties, asbestos has been used in a wide range of manufactured goods, including roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper and cement products, and textiles.

Intact and undisturbed asbestos-containing materials generally do not pose a health risk. Materials containing asbestos may become hazardous and pose increased risk if they are damaged, are disturbed in some manner, or deteriorate over time and release asbestos fibers into building air. Exposure to asbestos is known to cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Other cancers, primarily of the digestive tract, are also possible.

EPA’s asbestos program for schools, mandated by the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), and its regulations for schools and other buildings is founded on the principle of “in-place” management of asbestos-containing material (ACM). This approach is designed to prevent asbestos exposure by teaching people to recognize ACM and actively monitor and, where necessary, manage them without removal.

Removal of ACM is not usually necessary unless the material is severely damaged or will be disturbed by a building demolition or renovation project.

AHERA requires local education agencies to inspect their schools for asbestos-containing building material and prepare management plans to prevent or reduce asbestos hazards. Public school districts and non-profit private schools (collectively called local education agencies) are subject to AHERA’s requirements.

Steps to Reduce Exposure to Asbestos:

  • Make the school management plan available to all interested parties so they can learn where all identified ACM is located and how it is being monitored.
  • Ensure all building operations and maintenance staff review the management plan to better understand how to minimize potential disturbance to ACM.
  • To prevent exposures to asbestos, do not cut, scrape, gouge, drill or physically disturb ACM in any way. Additionally, do not sand, grind, saw or abrade ACM in any way.
  • Report any concerns about damage or deterioration of ACM immediately to the building administrator.

Additional Online Resources

  • EPA Children’s Environmental Health Website Protecting children’s health from environmental risks is fundamental to EPA’s mission. Get the facts about children’s environmental health at https://www.epa.gov/children
  • Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit PEHSU is a respected network of experts in children’s environmental health. The PEHSU was created to ensure that children and communities have access to, usually at no cost, special medical knowledge and resources for children faced with a health risk due to a natural or human-made environmental hazard. To learn more visit http://www.pehsu.net/
  • Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools The U.S. Department of Education announced in 2011 the creation of the Green Ribbon Schools program to recognize schools that are creating healthy and sustainable learning environments and teaching environmental literacy. The new awards program will be run by the Education Department with the support of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. To learn more visit https://www2.ed.gov/programs/green-ribbonschools/
  • EPA Regional School Contacts Locate your regional EPA School Coordinator or Children’s Health Coordinator by visiting https://www.epa.gov/schools/schools-coordinators-epa-regions
  • EPA’s Voluntary School Siting Guidelines EPA’s voluntary school siting guidelines can help local school districts and community members evaluate environmental factors to make the best possible school siting decisions. This website includes an overview for the guidelines, as well as links to resources and additional information. https://www.epa.gov/schools/school-siting-guidelines
  • EPA’s Voluntary State School Environmental Health Guidelines EPA has developed State School Environmental Health Guidelines, a voluntary guidance document which helps states, tribes, and territories create and implement environmental health programs for K-12 schools. The goal of the guidelines is to provide a framework for improving the health and well-being of students by creating and sustaining healthy, safe, and productive school environments. To learn more visit https://www.epa.gov/schools/state-school-environmental-healthguidelines
  • K-12 School Compliance It is important to note that schools are obligated to comply with relevant environmental regulations, and environmental compliance is an integral part of a K-12 school environmental health program. To learn more visit https://www.epa.gov/schools/law-regulationand-policy-resources