Asbestos in older school buildings still poses health hazard

WASHINGTON — Construction on a Montgomery County middle school was interrupted this week when asbestos tiles were found buried at the site.

The tiles were the flooring surface of the long-demolished Kensington Junior High. The job of removing the potentially cancer-causing materials was scheduled this week.

State inspectors have been at the site and will continue to check that the hazardous job of asbestos abatement is being done in compliance with state laws and regulations, according to Jay Apperson, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act. Signed into law in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, the law aims to protect students, teachers and school staff from the dangers of asbestos.

“Any school built before 1980 or 1981 almost certainly includes asbestos materials,” says Alex Formuzis, Vice President at the Environmental Working Group Action Fund. The environmental group says there are still asbestos risks and it charges that many states are not adequately addressing it.

“States are required to regularly inspect schools for the presence of asbestos,” Formuzis says.

Last year, Senator Barbara Boxer, D-CA, ranking member of the Senate committee on Environment, asked all states for information about asbestos in their school buildings.

“30 states including Maryland and Virginia ignored that inquiry entirely,” Formuzis says.

The environmental group says parents with children in older school buildings can find out about any risk of asbestos, because under the terms of the 30 year old federal law every school is required to keep records of how they inspect and manage asbestos.

“Parents can go an ask for the asbestos action plan at the schools where their kids go and the schools are required to provide that,” Formuzis says.

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