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Asbestos in Schools: Are Your Children at Risk?

Legally Reviewed by Joseph P. Williams on August 25, 2021

Asbestos is a known carcinogen with connections to terminal cancers such as mesothelioma. For decades, however, it was used in buildings, structures and products throughout the U.S. This includes thousands of school buildings that currently house our nation’s children. Understanding the risks of asbestos exposure in schools can help you better protect your children.

How Many Schools in the U.S. Have Asbestos?

Asbestos exposure is still a significant risk due to its popularity as a building material in the 1900s. Until the 1980s, asbestos was added to common products that are used in building and construction, including insulation, drywall and fireproofing materials. To this day, many buildings that are older than 1980 still contain dangerous amounts of asbestos. This includes the following schools in New York, among many others:

  • Amityville Junior High School in Long Island
  • Banjo High School in Brooklyn
  • Bellerose Elementary School in Queens
  • Goshen High School in Goshen
  • Levittown Elementary School in Levittown 
  • New York City Public School on 69th Street
  • Stevenson High School in the Bronx
  • Tuckahoe High School in Yonkers
  • Wingate Junior High School in Brooklyn

The full list of known buildings with asbestos is long and constantly being updated. The odds that your children’s school contains asbestos are higher if the school was built pre-1980. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says to automatically presume the presence of asbestos in any building constructed before 1981. However, the EPA also says that this alone does not indicate a hazard. 

What Are the Risks of Asbestos to Children? 

Even if it has been proven that a school contains asbestos, this may not mean that your children are at risk. In 1986, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act was passed to protect students from asbestos exposure while in school buildings. This act requires schools to inspect their buildings and create response actions if any asbestos-containing materials are found. Schools must also assign and train a professional to oversee ongoing asbestos protection efforts.

Still, some schools and educational centers are not doing enough to minimize the risk of student asbestos exposure. This can mean the potential for related diseases developing in a child years after exposure. In addition, the EPA itself is falling short of its responsibilities to prevent asbestos exposure incidents. A 2018 report from the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General found that only 13 percent of the inspections it was responsible for were completed from 2011 to 2015.

Whether or not children are more susceptible to mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases than adults is still up for debate. In its 1980 risk assessment, the EPA stated that due to the highly active nature of school children, they have higher breathing rates and may inhale greater amounts of asbestos than adults. A 2013 carcinogenicity study, however, concluded that it is not possible to say whether children are more vulnerable to asbestos than adults.

Talking to a School About Asbestos

Unfortunately, you will not know whether your child has been exposed to asbestos in school until decades later. This is why it is important to be proactive in protecting your child from asbestos now, while it may still be in your power to prevent harmful exposure. Contact your child’s school administrators to open a discussion about this issue. You have the right to gain access to any asbestos reports conducted by school district officials.

Ask if there are known traces of asbestos at the school, and where they are located, if so. Telling your child to avoid these areas, if possible, could reduce his or her risk of asbestos exposure. If no one has ever inspected the school for asbestos, you may be able to push for an inspection. This is the school district’s legal responsibility under federal law. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma as an adult and believe that you were exposed in school as a child, contact a mesothelioma attorney in New York right away.

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