EPA Is Failing to Protect School Children From Asbestos, Internal Watchdog Agency Says
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) isn't doing enough to protect the 50 million school children and seven million teachers and staff who spend time in U.S. private and public schools from asbestos exposure.
That's the conclusion of a report released Monday by the EPA's Office of Inspector General (OIG), the agency's internal watchdog.
The report assessed the EPA's compliance with the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) of 1986, an amendment to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that requires local education agencies to inspect schools for asbestos, make asbestos management plans and carry out actions to reduce or prevent asbestos exposure.
"Even though the EPA was responsible for conducting AHERA compliance inspections for the majority of states, it conducted fewer inspections overall than the states responsible for their own inspections," the report found.
Between 2011 and 2015, the EPA conducted only 13 percent of inspections required under AHERA, while states in charge of their own inspections conducted 87 percent.
The report further found that only one EPA region had a strategy for monitoring compliance under TSCA, and five of 10 regions only inspected for asbestos when there was a complaint.
"Without compliance inspections, the EPA cannot know whether schools pose an actual risk of asbestos exposure to students and personnel," the report said.
The OIG recommended that the EPA mandate that regions incorporate asbestos monitoring into TSCA monitoring plans generally and tell local education agencies that they must work with regional offices to establish asbestos management plans that are maintained and to make sure the plans are being followed.
Trump's EPA blamed the Obama administration for the lax enforcement, and it is true that the period highlighted by the study coincides with the Obama presidency.
"The previous administration did not do enough to provide adequate protections to children from asbestos exposure. The Trump administration is taking proactive steps to reduce asbestos exposure, which includes a new proposed regulation that, for the first time, would prohibit the currently unregulated former uses of asbestos," EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said in a statement reported by The Hill.
The proposed regulation in question, the Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) for asbestos, would require manufacturers to gain EPA approval before starting importing, manufacturing or processing of asbestos.
But public health advocates, and some EPA staffers, have expressed concerns that the SNUR could actually be used to expand the use of asbestos in the U.S. by allowing companies to petition for uses on a case-by-case basis.
Trump's EPA has also been criticized for saying it will not consider the health risk posed by asbestos already in the environment when it evaluates it as one of the first 10 chemicals it will study for a potential ban under a 2016 amendment to TSCA.
Significant amounts of asbestos were used in American schools from 1946 to 1972, the OIG report said.
It was commonly used as insulation and flame retardant, and can be found in older schools in vinyl flooring, textured paint and patching on walls and steam and water pipes.
Children and teachers in schools can be exposed when asbestos is disturbed by construction or remodeling, the OIG said.
"Asbestos exposure risk is higher in children because they are more active, breathe at higher rates and through the mouth, and spend more time closer to the floor where asbestos fibers can accumulate," the report said.
Sixty-five countries currently ban #asbestos which was once widely used as an insulator and flame retardant in buil… https://t.co/koY3eGWh3L— Save the U.S. EPA (@Save the U.S. EPA)1534909630.0
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.