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1,600 Schools in Scotland Contain Asbestos: Could this Happen in the U.S.?

There are more than 2,500 schools across Scotland serving more than 680,000 students. An alarming 65% of these schools contain asbestos. Could something like this happen in the U.S.? Unfortunately, it already has. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that any school built before 1981 is presumed to contain asbestos. Even newer schools could contain the deadly mineral because asbestos isn’t banned in the U.S. 

According to the most recent figures by the U.S. Department of Education, there are more than 131,000 elementary and secondary schools across the nation. More than 50 million students will attend public elementary and secondary schools in fall 2017 alone. Because the average age of public school buildings in the United States is 42 years, with nearly half built between 1950 and 1969, most of these students will attend a school that contains asbestos.

The belief among regulators is, in general, materials containing asbestos that are not disturbed or deteriorated, do not pose a health risk and can be left in place. However, in Chicago alone, a 2013 inspection revealed that more than 600 locations at more than 180 schools had damaged asbestos that needed complete removal or repair. As of fall 2015, just 11 of those schools had taken any of the recommended actions to reduce potential exposure. Again, that’s just one city out of more than 35,000 recognized cities and towns throughout the U.S.

What’s Being Done About It

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that both public and non-profit private schools have “distinct regulatory requirements to protect school children and school employees from asbestos exposure,” beginning with the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA). AHERA and its regulations “require public school districts and non-profit schools including charter schools and schools affiliated with religious institutions to inspect their schools for asbestos-containing building material and prepare management plans and to take action to prevent or reduce asbestos hazards,” says the agency.

“These legal requirements are founded on the principle of "in-place" management of asbestos-containing material. Removal of these materials is not usually necessary unless the material is severely damaged or will be disturbed by a building demolition or renovation project.

Personnel working on asbestos activities in schools must be trained and accredited in accordance with The Asbestos Model Accreditation Plan. In addition, if removal of asbestos during renovation is warranted, or school buildings will be demolished, public school districts and non-profit schools must comply with the Asbestos National Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), which is regulated under the Clean Air Act.”

What You Can Do

Under current regulation, “parents, teachers, and school employees, or their representatives, have the right to inspect the school’s asbestos management plan. Schools are required to notify parent-teacher organizations (such as PTAs) once a year about the availability of the school’s asbestos management plan and asbestos-related activity taking place within the school. The school must make the plan available for inspection within five working days of it being requested.”

Keep in mind that some state and local agencies may have more stringent standards than those required by the Federal government too, so if you suspect that your child’s school contains asbestos, contact your state and local health departments for help.



“Asbestos and School Buildings.” EPA, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 19 Dec. 2016.

Boyle, Megan. “Five Myths about Asbestos in Schools.” EWG, Environmental Working Group (EWG), 17 Mar. 2016.

“Educational Institutions.” Institute of Education Sciences (IES) National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), U.S. Department of Education, 2013.

“High Level Summary of Statistics Trend Last Update: December 2016 School Education.” Scottish Government, The Scottish Government, 21 Jun. 2017.

“How Many Cities Are There in the United States?”, IAC Publishing, 2017.

“How Old are America’s Public Schools.” Institute of Education Sciences (IES) National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), U.S. Department of Education.

McDonald, Craig. “Is your child's school affected by Asbestos? The 1600 schools across Scotland, which contain killer substance.” Daily Record, The Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail Ltd., 11 Jun. 2017.

Mourant, Andrew. “Asbestos Raises Its Ugly Head in Schools.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 7 Dec. 2010.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration, United States Department of Labor.

“Toxic Substances Portal - Asbestos.” Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 Mar. 2016.

“What are the new back to school statistics for 2017.” Institute of Education Sciences (IES) National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), U.S. Department of Education, 2017.