“Asbestos” is a word that, for the general population, often conjures mental images of yellow caution tape draped across the doorways of aging buildings. Unfortunately, as many people in the construction industry know, aging schools are among the buildings most in need of abatement. Construction industry professionals have been addressing asbestos issues for decades, and now that many of our local schools in our area are subject to renovations, our community needs to know about how this material is a hazard to both students and teachers in these facilities.
Asbestos, of course, is a highly toxic mineral once widely used in consumer goods, shipbuilding, and the construction industry prior to regulations introduced in the 1970s. The mineral was predominantly used for its beneficial physical characteristics, including durability and heat resistance. However, asbestos can also break down into thin, microscopic fibers that pose a threat to human health. Being exposed to asbestos doesn’t have an immediately noticeable impact on health. This, in addition to asbestos fibers being invisible to the naked eye, results in people not realizing that they have inhaled asbestos or that their health could be compromised decades in the future. Asbestos exposure leads to several harsh diseases, most notably a type of cancer found in the linings of internal organs (most often the lungs).
In a 2014 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, the average age of a public school in the United States was 44 years old. This figure is calculated based on the number of years from the construction of the main instructional building rather than any potential additions. On top of this, the average number of years since a public school had undergone a renovation rose from 11 to 12 years, compared to a similar study conducted in 1999. Given that it was common to use asbestos products to construct buildings until the 1970s, it’s likely that some form of asbestos is still present in many public schools.
The federal government has regulations in place to help guide schools in addressing asbestos issues. The Asbestos Hazards Emergency Response Act (AHERA) requires schools to inspect facilities for asbestos products, create a management plan, and take action to best prevent exposure to asbestos. General Contractors, like Clark/Sullivan Construction (C/S), take asbestos abatement very seriously. Whether crews are renovating a school, office building, or any other existing structure, the C/S teams prioritize the safety of the building’s occupants and the construction crews to ensure the abatement process is thorough and safe for all involved. This may mean scheduling abatement during Spring or Summer vacations to avoid exposure to students and school staff or cordoned-off wings or areas within a building to protect occupants. At the end of the day, safety is the number-one priority on any job site.
It’s extremely important for local communities to be aware of the issue and the potential health risks associated with unintended asbestos exposure. Many people are unaware that school teachers have an extremely high risk of dying from mesothelioma compared to the national average. That is why having trained professionals remove asbestos from schools is an important step in protecting the health and futures of both students and educators.
This article is brought to you as a collaboration between Clare Christensen of Clark/Sullivan Construction and Anna Suarez, a mesothelioma health advocate.