Public schools have a duty and expectation to provide a safe and healthy environment. If a hazard is encountered, school officials must take every precaution to resolve it to protect students and staff.
Despite the advances in school safety made in recent years, there remains a hidden danger lurking in many older school buildings across the nation: asbestos. When inhaled, asbestos is shown to cause cancer and other serious health problems.
Asbestos refers to a group of six fibrous minerals found naturally in rock and soil. Because asbestos is heat-resistant and durable, it was mined and used in a range of construction materials, auto parts, fabrics, packaging, paper products, and other manufactured goods. These products are known as asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).
Undisturbed asbestos is less hazardous than asbestos that has been disturbed or damaged. When ACMs break up, tiny fiber particles are released into the air. If a person inhales or ingests these fibers, over time, it can lead to asbestosis and other diseases that affect the lungs, heart, stomach, or colon.
Mesothelioma is one cancer that is caused by asbestos exposure. This is an incurable and aggressive cancer of the lining of tissue that covers the body’s internal organs. There are four types of mesothelioma, each named for the location in the body where tumors develop. Mesothelioma can take years or even decades to develop.
Nearly half of all primary and secondary schools in the United States were built between 1950 and 1969, a peak time for asbestos use in construction. Because some asbestos cancers develop years after initial exposure, it is possible for someone who attended or worked at a school in the 1960s and 1970s to become ill today. In districts with older school buildings, it is critical for administration and maintenance staff to follow guidelines regarding asbestos materials.
The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to:
In some cases, asbestos removal is not necessary if the material is undisturbed. When asbestos requires removal, it must be done by trained and accredited abatement professionals in accordance with the Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). These standards minimize asbestos exposure to humans and the environment during the abatement process.
Because most buildings containing asbestos were constructed several decades ago, it is important to be mindful of the age and condition of the school your child attends. Do not hesitate to ask for a copy of the asbestos management plan from school administration. Legally, they must provide this information within five days of your request. The plan should disclose when the building was last inspected, if asbestos was found, and whether it was encapsulated, enclosed, or removed.
Always contact your child’s health care provider if your child is having trouble breathing or has other symptoms that are not related to a known health issue. If your child has been diagnosed with a condition caused by asbestos exposure, contact a lawyer to discuss your situation.
If you can show the school knew about an asbestos problem and failed to act, they can be held accountable. You may have grounds to bring legal action against the responsible parties and recover damages for medical costs and other damages.
School should be a safe place for every child and adult. There are strict guidelines for managing toxic materials like asbestos in public buildings. Our Wilmington asbestos lawyers at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. advocate for clients facing serious health issues caused by exposure to harmful chemicals and materials. Call us at 302-656-5445 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case. We have offices in Wilmington and Millsboro, Delaware, and we serve the communities of Dover, New Castle County, and Sussex County.