EPA asbestos protection for schoolchildren lagging: watchdog

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The Environmental Protection Agency is shifting money away from a congressionally mandated program meant to get harmful asbestos out of schools, even though the threat of contamination remains, the agency’s internal watchdog said on Monday. | Adobe Stock Photo

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency is shifting money away from a congressionally mandated program meant to get harmful asbestos out of schools, even though the threat of contamination remains, the agency’s internal watchdog said on Monday.

Asbestos, which builders used for decades as insulation and as a fire-resistant material, can cause lung diseases, cancer and other health problems. Under a 1986 federal act, the EPA remains responsible for monitoring whether local officials are checking for asbestos in schools and cleaning it up, the agency’s Office of the Inspector General said.

The watchdog office is an independently funded operation within EPA.

The inspector general’s report says half the EPA’s regional districts only check for asbestos in a school if they receive a specific complaint.

One EPA regional office — the Dallas-based headquarters for the south-central U.S. — did no asbestos inspections in schools between 2012 and 2016, the inspector general found.

The report says some local EPA offices have eliminated resources for asbestos oversight for schools, citing dwindling resources and competing priorities.

EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said Monday that the Obama administration “did not do enough to provide adequate protections to children from asbestos exposure.”

The Trump administration says it now wants to eliminate any currently unregulated use of asbestos. Environmental groups want the government to ban the use and import of asbestos entirely.

The U.S. Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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