Federal regulators inspected less than 15% of the U.S. schools it was required to check for asbestos during a fifteen year period, according to a new audit.
According to an asbestos compliance report conducted by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not performing sufficient compliance inspections for schools, which are designed to help reduce asbestos exposure risks for children.
Overall, the EPA is not properly monitoring asbestos in schools across the country, according to the findings. In fact, in some areas of the country, the EPA completed no monitoring for asbestos during the audit period.
The review was conducted between April 2017 and May 2018, evaluating performance and data from the agency under both the Trump and Obama administrations.
Between 2001 and 2015, the EPA only conducted 13% of Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act inspections it was required to perform nationwide.
In some states, jurisdictions are required to conduct their own inspections. Those local agencies performed 87% of required asbestos inspections, indicating the EPA was severely under performing.
In five out of 10 EPA regions, inspections were only done in schools when the agency received complaints or tips related to asbestos.
There were no inspections completed from 2012 and 2016 in EPA Region 6, which includes Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma. In EPA Region 7, which includes Iowa, Mississippi, Kansas, Nebraska and nine tribal nations, only six inspections were done during that time.
Research indicates one-third of all schools in the United States are contaminated with asbestos. For children, the risk of asbestos exposure at school is higher since they are more active. Children have a higher respiratory rate and breathe through the mouth. They also spend more time closer to the floor where asbestos fibers can accumulate.
Buildings constructed before 1980 often contain asbestos, posing a risk that students and faculty may be exposed to the toxic fibers. Asbestos material can crumble during maintenance work, demolitions, and renovations, exposing occupants of the building.
Inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers can cause serious health side effects and have long lasting consequences later in life, including mesothelioma, which is a rare and deadly form of cancer that may develop decades after exposure to asbestos and breathing asbestos fibers.
Mesothelioma is often at a very advanced stage by the time a diagnosis is made, resulting in a very short life-expectancy.
The EPA is tasked with ensuring schools are properly inspected for asbestos and plans are enacted to manage it if asbestos is found. The report advised the EPA to require regions to begin incorporating asbestos strategies into their compliance monitoring and to inform local school districts of the need for asbestos management plans.
In recent decades, following exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma lawsuits have been brought against a variety of manufacturers in courts throughout the United States, making up one of the largest mass-tort in U.S. history.