Three charter schools in Arizona were fined nearly $30,000 by the Environmental Protection Agency last week after being found guilty of not conducing initial asbestos inspections or developing an asbestos management plan. The worst offender – Phoenix’s Cave Creek High School – failed to conduct ongoing inspections of its documented 12,580 square feet of asbestos material. Such inspections are required by the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA).
The act is a means of regulating, inspecting, cataloging and handling asbestos in all U.S. schools, and was put into law in 1986 to ensure the safety of public buildings from the dangers of asbestos exposure and that any asbestos material pre-existing is monitored and undamaged by renovations, age, or other circumstance. There are eight major steps to compliance – including instructing maintenance staff on asbestos awareness and handling, creating an asbestos management plan accessible to all parents and staff, requiring documentation of all asbestos-related activity, and conducting a survey every six months of asbestos sources.
As long as asbestos is intact and not broken or exposed, the EPA considers the material safe. However, if asbestos products have been disturbed or tampered with, the risk of asbestos exposure increases exponentially. This highly increases the chances of inhalation, indirectly leading the mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases like asbestosis and lung cancer. What makes exposure even more dangerous is its latency period – symptoms sometimes do not set in for decades and often when it is too late for treatment. All schools are now in compliance with AHERA.