The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Widespread Asbestos Violations in Massachusetts Schools

EPA Intervention Demanded to Eliminate Asbestos Problems before Schools Reopen


Emergency federal intervention is needed to abate asbestos hazards in
hundreds of Bay State schools, according to a legal petition filed
today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Agency records show widespread noncompliance by schools with federal
asbestos requirements.

Occupants of buildings with
asbestos-containing materials are at risk for asbestosis,
asbestos-related pleural disease, lung cancer, and malignant
mesothelioma. Massachusetts Cancer Registry data indicate that teachers
and school custodians are reporting cases of malignant mesothelioma, a
cancerous tumor in the lining of the lung linked to asbestos exposure
for the period of 1982 to 2003. Risks for students, however, have yet
to be studied. More than 53 million children and about 6 million adults
spend a substantial part of their days in schools, according to federal

The federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency
Response Act (AHERA) requires all public and private non-profit primary
and secondary schools to implement plans for asbestos containment,
removal and periodic inspections. On average, 90 percent of
Massachusetts schools chosen at random for audits were not in compliance
with AHERA during the last ten years for which records are available
(1998 to 2008). In none of the years was the rate of school compliance
greater than 22 percent.

Problems uncovered in the audits
included failure to:

  • Keep required records to verify that
    when asbestos-containing building materials were disturbed, access to
    the area was restricted, or the air-handling system was modified or shut
  • Ensure that maintenance/custodial staff were trained
    in asbestos hazards and requirements; and
  • Notify parents,
    teachers or employee organizations of the asbestos management plan's

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) is responsible for enforcing AHERA but in 1998, EPA authorized the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts to administer the statute, a task that,
in turn, fell to the state Division of Occupational Safety. EPA retains
oversight over Massachusetts' performance - a responsibility which PEER
is invoking through today's petition.

"School children,
teachers, custodians and cafeteria workers are at risk of exposure
throughout the Commonwealth," stated New England PEER Director Kyla
Bennett, a former EPA biologist and attorney, noting that recent
inspections of 40 schools turned up more than 300 violations. "These
ultrahigh rates of noncompliance sound an alarm bell that we need more
boots on the ground now to turn the corner on this by the end of the
summer, before the schools reopen."

The PEER enforcement
petition was filed today with the acting EPA Regional Administrator Curt
Spalding in Boston. The petition demands that EPA immediately assume
jurisdiction in order to protect public health and maintain credibility
of the federal program. If Mr. Spaulding declines to intervene, PEER
can appeal his inaction to EPA's Assistant Administrator for Enforcement
and Compliance Assurance in Washington, Cynthia Giles.

asbestos exposure of pupils and school personnel is the main purpose of
the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act," added Bennett.
"Noncompliance rates on the order of 90 percent indicate that the
Massachusetts Division of Occupational Safety may not have adequate
resources to enforce federal asbestos protections."

the PEER petition to EPA

DOS report on recent school asbestos violations

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.