A report conducted by the Institute of Education Services concluded that “the average age of public school buildings in the United States is 44 years.” However, in the state of New Jersey, the average age of its public schools is actually quite higher at more than 50 years.
The number of aging schools is leading to growing questions as to how to address health problems that may occur. Historically, many public schools that were built in the 1950s and 1960s for the baby boomers used asbestos. Asbestos was incorporated into everything, from the ceiling to the floor tiles to the mastic, joint compounds, insulation and even cement. (Asbestos was also found in many household products at the time.) What people at the time did not realize was the fact that asbestos was carcinogenic and that exposure to airborne asbestos fibers led to symptoms that included mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other cancers and deadly diseases.
Part of what makes asbestos such a dangerous compound is the fact that this fibrous material is literally invisible to the naked eye. As a result, it is difficult to notice if one has been or currently is exposed to asbestos until it is too late. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the United States Environmental Protection Agency both have concluded that there is no acceptable safe level of asbestos exposure that an individual can experience. It should be noted that asbestos is completely safe and harmful in its solid confined form. What makes this substance so dangerous is when it is disturbed, becomes loose and crumbles, releasing its microscopic fibers into the air and into the lungs of innocent people. The crumbling state of the asbestos is known as friable.
The most common activities that account for most asbestos exposures in school are: Construction, demolition, and renovation; maintenance activities; and accidental disturbances.
The Environmental Protection Agency delegated “the authority to conduct [Asbestos Hazards Emergency Response Act] inspections to the Department of health and funded this work through a grant to the state,” for New Jersey’s aging school buildings.