Asbestos in Schools

A Dilemma Gao ID: CED-82-114 August 31, 1982

In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the progress of federal efforts to reduce asbestos hazards in schools, including: (1) the impact of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) technical assistance program to stimulate states and school districts to correct asbestos problems; (2) other actions which EPA has taken or could have taken to protect schoolchildren from asbestos; and (3) state and federal agency compliance with the Asbestos School Hazard Detection and Control Act.

The EPA technical assistance program has had some impact in stimulating voluntary inspections and abatement activities. However, it was not successful in getting all schools to inspect for asbestos. GAO found that approximately 21 percent of public schools in 11 states had not been inspected. Moreover, based on EPA standards, the quality of inspections that were done is questionable. Many inspections were restricted to certain areas; in other cases, school officials relied on construction records to identify asbestos-oriented problems rather than on visual inspections and test sample analyses. EPA has not determined when asbestos is hazardous enough to warrant abatement; however, such criteria are being developed. Although EPA provides some guidance on various factors to consider when making abatement decisions, it found that these factors were unreliable when tested. Because of a lack of hazard criteria, state and local policies on asbestos abatement range from total removal to total inaction. The Asbestos School Hazard Detection and Control Act has had little impact. The grant and loan program for detecting and abating asbestos in schools was not funded because of other budget priorities. The Department of Education has provided procedures for detecting and correcting asbestos. However, it has not completed its revision of EPA guidelines. Additionally, state reports and records required by the act provide little additional information on the extent of asbestos in schools.

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