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Safety Group Warns of Asbestos in California Schools

The nonprofit advocacy group Environmental Working Group is warning that students and employees in several California’s schools have been exposed to asbestos over the last few years, and more may be at risk in the coming year.

Environmental Working Group made headlines just a month ago when it revealed that off brand children’s crayons and crime fighting kits contained the deadly toxin, and now they are taking aim at the schools in the West Coast State. There were three elementary schools that were closed last year in Huntington Beach following the discovery of asbestos fibers, with one remaining closed this year, and 34 schools found to have the same problem in Northern California’s Hayward County. UC Davis is also experiencing asbestos problems, as it was recently learned that drilling that has been done over the years in order to install audio and visual equipment has exposed workers, faculty and students to the carcinogen.

The fact that asbestos was originally in the buildings is not a surprise. It was widely used for construction purposes up until the late 1970s, when it was discovered to be dangerous. According to Alex Formuzis, VP of Strategic Campaigns at the Environmental Working Group Action Fund, “Any school in California that was built before 1980 that hasn’t been dramatically remodeled likely contains asbestos.” Removal of asbestos can be extremely expensive, and many schools are required to pay for it themselves. It is also a logistical problem, as it often involves relocating students to other, safer buildings and the cost of that alone can be as much $50,000.

Environmental Working Group is working to place responsibility for this expense squarely on the shoulders of the state, saying, “We want folks at the very top of the government in California to put together a plan and find out what they can do to address these concern,” and in response California’s Senator Barbara Boxer has inquired as to how other states have addressed these issues. Forums says, “There is no model as far as we can tell, no model at the state level for how asbestos should be dealt with in schools.”

Asbestos was widely used in construction and in industrial settings because it is inexpensive and an extremely effective insulator, as well as flame and heat resistant. School buildings were constructed using it in various elements, ranging from tile floors and ceilings to insulation. It is not a danger when it is intact, but as it ages and breaks down it becomes what is known as “friable” – it breaks down into small particles that can be inhaled or ingested, and that is when it becomes a health hazard.

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer is an independent writer, editor and proofreader. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Her dreams of a writing career were diverted by a need to pay her bills. She spent a few years providing copy for a major retailer, then landed a lucrative career in advertising sales. With college bills for all three of her kids paid, she left corporate America for a return to her original goal of writing. She specializes in providing content for websites and finds tremendous enjoyment in the things she learns while doing her research. Her specific areas of interest include health and fitness, medical research, and the law.

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