Any parent seeing their child off to school knows they might face some difficulties. Many mothers and fathers, however, would be shocked to learn that might mean being exposed to asbestos. Putnam County in Florida is just one of the latest school districts to face this disturbing reality.
In total, 14 of the district’s 18 buildings are known to have, or potentially have, asbestos. While the associate superintendent said asbestos-containing materials such as paint and tiles do not pose a danger unless they’re cracked or broken, that’s of little comfort to many parents. Even more troubling is that Putnam County is far from the only school district in the country potentially exposing students to the carcinogen.
Many U.S. schools have asbestos
The United States has known about the dangers of asbestos for decades. More than 30 years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said “most” of the 107,000 primary and secondary school buildings in the country contained asbestos, according to one op-ed. More than three decades later, you’d expect things to have improved.
Yet in a 2015 Senate report, two-thirds of state education agencies in the country acknowledged having schools that contain asbestos.
That means millions of America’s students, some barely out of their toddler years, may spend their days in a building that could expose them to a deadly, cancer-causing substance.
The scope of the problem
Asbestos is at its most dangerous when a person breathes in its particles. These fibers can get into the lungs and cause serious, potentially deadly diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer. It may take decades, however, for symptoms to begin to show.
According to federal safety officials, asbestos-containing products that remain solid – meaning they are not broken or degrading, and therefore not releasing the microscopic fibers into the air – don’t pose an immediate health risk. Common items in schools that may have been made with asbestos include:
- Floor and ceiling tiles
- Paper pipe wrap
- Spray-applied fireproofing
- Decorative insulation
- Cement asbestos pipes
If these products are disturbed, broken or begin to erode, and asbestos particles become airborne, anyone that passes by may breathe them in. If you think your child may have been dangerously exposed to asbestos, learn about your options.