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Asbestos in Schools

Photo of a school that may have had asbestos exposure

Dangers of Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is practically indestructible, binds easily with other materials, and is highly heat and fire resistant. Because of these properties, asbestos was added to thousands of construction and insulation products until environmental and federal regulations restricted its manufacture, distribution and use in the early 1980s.

Any school built before 1980 likely was constructed with asbestos containing materials (ACMs). Any product containing asbestos is safe as long as it is intact and in good condition. However, when such products are disturbed or damaged, the fibers can become airborne. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that “friable” asbestos –which can be crumbled, pulverized or reduced to powder by hand pressure when dry - creates the greatest health risk. Anything from normal repairs to water damage, abrasion, fire, or demolition can disturb asbestos.

When airborne, asbestos can easily be inhaled or ingested. Fibers then lodge in the lungs or other internal organs, and cause serious illnesses decades later. Asbestos related diseases include:


  • Mesothelioma - an incurable cancer that develops in the lining of the chest, heart, or abdominal cavities
  • Asbestosis - scarring of the lungs
  • Cancer – of the lungs, esophagus, stomach, colon and other organs

Types of Exposure to Asbestos in Schools

The most common types of exposure to asbestos in schools occur through three types of activities:

  1. Regular maintenance and repairs: 
    • Painting or drilling holes in the walls or ceilings
    • Changing lighting fixtures or light bulbs
    • Repair to electrical, plumbing or heating systems
    • Refinishing or replacing floor or ceiling tiles
  2. Construction, Renovation, and Demolition
  3. Accidental Disturbances/Environmental Damage
    • Water or fire damage
    • Storms, earthquakes and other natural disasters

If your current or past work or school history involves any of this type of exposure, be sure to notify your doctor that you might have had occupational exposure and make sure to get regular check ups. Detecting asbestos related diseases early is very difficult to do and yet vital to increase survival times and efficacy of treatments.