Around half of all schools in the United States were built between 1950 and 1970, a time when asbestos was commonly used in construction materials like roofing, siding, insulation, soundproofing, floor tiles and ceiling tiles. Much of the asbestos that was installed in school buildings remains to this day. Consumer safety advocates and toxic tort attorneys have expressed concern over school building asbestos exposure, and the cancer risks that may exist at the workplace for many teachers and school staff. As time goes on, the asbestos materials naturally break down, and may present a serious cancer risk for those in some school buildings. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), undisturbed asbestos materials generally do not pose a health risk.
But when toxic materials are disturbed during maintenance operations or renovations, student and teachers may be exposed to school asbestos materials. Students and school employees in Ohio may be exposed to serious health risks from remaining asbestos in schools and colleges across the state. Asbestos can cause cancer and other serious illnesses when inhaled, and it remains widespread in many schools.
If a school building was constructed before the 1980s, there is a good chance that it contains some amount of asbestos. Roughly 50 percent of all schools in the U.S. were built in the 1950s and 1960s, when asbestos materials were used as a matter of common practice. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that many of the 132,000 primary and secondary schools house asbestos-containing materials. These schools currently serve as a place of study for more than 55 million students, and as the workplaces for more than 7 million teachers and education staff.
The current policy of most Ohio school districts is to manage asbestos materials, and not to remove it, so the potential for harmful exposures will remain an issue now and in the future.
School Asbestos Hazards
The EPA recommends schools leave asbestos materials in place. However, when Maintenance Crews are not educated on the hazards of disturbance, or other unforeseen exposures occur, asbestos in schools can cause serious health issues.
When maintenance or renovation projects disturb asbestos-containing materials, or when the materials naturally deteriorate over time, asbestos dust can enter the air. Exposure to the fibers puts teachers, students and staff at increased risk for developing serious lung conditions, including asbestosis, pulmonary fibrosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there’s no safe level of asbestos exposure. Even brief exposure can cause serious illness.
Asbestos materials were used for their superior durability and fire-resistant properties, but they will eventually deteriorate and breathable asbestos fibers release into the air and can be inhaled by school building occupants. Thus many of Ohio schools must be inspected for asbestos risks, as well as mold and lead paint.
Students and teachers can be at an elevated lung cancer risk if they work or learn in a school environment contaminated with toxins. Young, developing students may be at a higher risk, and cancer cases have been documented by toxicologists.
Students and teachers who have been exposed to asbestos should see their doctor right away, as even brief, acute exposures to asbestos could lead to asbestos-related conditions like asbestosis, lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis and mesothelioma.
Asbestos-Related Disease Symptoms
The symptoms of lung cancer and mesothelioma can vary depending on where the cancer occurs. Most commonly, lung cancer, mesothelioma, pulmonary fibrosis and other related asbestos disease will affect the tissue that surrounds the lungs, causing serious discomfort and symptoms that may include:
• Chest pain under the rib cage
• Painful coughing
• Shortness of breath
• Lumps of tissue under the skin on abdomen
• Abdominal pain
• Abdominal swelling
• Unexplained weight loss
It is important to note that related cancers and diseases may have a long latency period, and may not present themselves until decades after exposure.
Teaching Health Risks
By some estimates, around 15,000 Americans die every year from asbestos-related illness. Because of the large number of school buildings still wrapped in asbestos-containing products, teachers are among the occupations most likely to be exposed to asbestos at the workplace.
According to recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the education industry ranked second for mesothelioma deaths. A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that elementary school teachers were more than twice as likely as the average American to die of mesothelioma or lung cancer, caused by asbestos exposure.
Young Students at Higher Risk
In 2013, a report from the U.K.’s Committee on Carcinogenicity (COC) concluded that a five-year-old child’s risk of developing mesothelioma is roughly five times greater than that of a 30-year-old adult—childhood exposure gives the slow-growing disease more time to develop. Which makes asbestos in schools significantly more dangerous for children.
The report was based on several factors including the fact that children have different lung structures than adults, which may be more susceptible to toxins like asbestos fibers. Children are also much more likely to be exposed to floor dust or asbestos in school supplies.
The report states: “All forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans, causing mesothelioma and cancer of the lung, larynx, and ovary. From an epidemiological perspective, there is good evidence that childhood exposure to asbestos can cause mesothelioma in late life.”
If you or a loved one has worked in a school building with asbestos and have been diagnosed with lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, adenocarcinoma, mesothelioma of another lung disease, contact The Lyon Firm for a free consultation at 800.513.2403
Experts Still Find Asbestos In Schools
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that there are asbestos-containing materials in the majority of the nation’s schools. Asbestos was commonly used in the materials used to construct schools in Ohio, which means children may be exposed anywhere on the premises, included in classrooms, cafeterias, hallways and gymnasiums.
In 2013, inspectors found damaged asbestos that needed repair or removal in more than 600 locations at more than 180 schools in Chicago.
In 2014, families and teaching staff at several California school districts were seriously concerned when contractors removed asbestos materials unsafely earlier that year. The school districts reportedly failed to warn parents and teachers about the project, and also failed to use proper preventative measures to prevent exposure. The schools and its contractors violated EPA regulations and put teachers and students at risk.
The families of students who attended these schools filed a lawsuit against the district, claiming officials and contractors failed to protect their children from hazardous conditions.
Where is Asbestos Found in Schools?
Knowing how to spot these toxic materials can be very difficult. Asbestos can appear as a “fluffy” substance. For example, the white substance found above a dropped ceiling may be a type of spray-applied asbestos; it can be grey, yellow, white, blue, brown or green.
So, unless a product is clearly labeled, there’s no way to tell if it contains asbestos. Deteriorated areas around Ohio schools may be the most obvious asbestos hazards, particularly in the following locations:
• Cement pipes
• Corrugated paper pipe wrap
• Decorative insulation
• Pipe and boiler insulation
• Spray-applied fireproofing
• Damaged wallboard, patching, drywall or plaster
• Worn soundproofing material
• Crumbling floor tiles or ceiling panels
• Old heating and air-conditioning equipment
• Chipped paint
• Vinyl tiles and vinyl sheet flooring
• Caulk and construction glues
• Joint compounds and textured paints
• Ceiling tiles
• Furnace and stove insulation
• Door seals in furnaces
• Vermiculite insulation
• Roofing, shingles, and siding
• Roofing felt paper
University of Cincinnati Asbestos
The buildings at the University of Cincinnati (UC) are among school buildings in Ohio with high levels of asbestos. In 2011, during renovations, air quality samples indicated the level of asbestos in the buildings was “unsatisfactory.”
At the time, a UC Spokesperson said asbestos materials were exposed as crews performed demolition work in the lower level of the building. He added that “most buildings” on campus had some asbestos in them.
Dr. Larry Holditch, the Medical Director for the Cincinnati Health Department, said in response that it’s dangerous when asbestos is disturbed. He added that the exposure could pose two serious health problems: respiratory difficulties and mesothelioma.
Cincinnati School Asbestos
The following schools in the Cincinnati, Ohio area may have dangerous levels of asbestos-containing materials in their current buildings:
• Hughes High School
• Mount Saint Joseph College
• Pleasant Run School
• Our Lady of Cincinnati College
• Raymond Walters College
• St. Bernard School
• Forest Hills School
• Withrow High School
• Winton Forest High School
• Walnut Hills High School
Asbestos in Schools Lawsuits
The Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies have warned the public about the dangers of asbestos for decades. Although more than 50 countries have made the use of asbestos illegal, it is still legal in the United States to expose consumers, students and school workers to dangerous products.
However, Ohio school districts and employers still have a responsibility to warn employees and students if there is a potential threat of toxic exposure. The responsible parties also have a duty to properly and safely manage harmful materials when they are present. Any person who has been harmed in or around a school may seek legal action and rightly seek compensation for any asbestos-related illness.
Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act
By Ohio law, all public and non-profit private primary and secondary schools must be inspected for asbestos every three years, and asbestos management plans are required. The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) is now in place to help school authorities account for asbestos containing materials properly.
The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), passed in 1986, requires public school districts and non-profit private schools to inspect schools to reduce toxic hazards from any asbestos-containing materials in school buildings. If asbestos is found in buildings, a plan is meant to provide some options on how to deal with it.
The materials can be removed, or sealed. Undamaged asbestos usually poses few health risk to teachers and students, but the condition of the materials can change quickly. If the asbestos materials are in good condition, schools will generally elect not to disturb them. Maintenance staff will often be tasked with repairing damaged pipes, tiles or flooring covered in asbestos insulation.