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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.
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By Tracy L. Barnett
Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.
For Sicangu Lakota water protector Cheryl Angel, Standing Rock helped her define what she stands against: an economy rooted in extraction of resources and exploitation of people and planet. It wasn't until she'd had some distance that the vision of what she stands for came into focus.
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.