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I Can't Believe that, 30 Years Later, We Still Have to Worry About Asbestos in Schools

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According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, teachers are more than twice as likely to develop Mesothelioma because of their classroom exposure to asbestos. Children are also especially vulnerable, says a recent study by the organization. [Image Source: KCRG.com]

I love stories about overcoming adversity and beating the odds. As a mom, I feel like I need to keep myself armed with inspiring stories, so I can always have examples at the ready to share with my kids about people winning in life. I especially want to illustrate to them that winning, or succeeding at something, doesn’t always come easy. In fact, success, or overcoming challenges, is often preceded by a long, hard road with lots of peaks and valleys in between.

I was recently inspired by Paul Kraus, the longest surviving Mesothelioma patient in the world. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos and Mr. Kraus was diagnosed with the condition in 1997. Although doctors initially estimated that he only had about 9 months to live at the time, he is still going strong today. Paul’s book, Surviving Mesothelioma, details his story and all of the things that he did to fight the disease, stay as healthy as possible and, ultimately, prolong his life against the odds.

I read Mr. Kraus’ story with interest, impressed with all of the drastic life changes he made and the amazing emotional strength it must have taken to keep pushing through in spite of his terrible diagnosis. This was not, however, a circumstance that I thought could happen today.

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Paul Kraus is celebrating almost 20 years of living with Mesothelioma, the cancer caused by asbestos exposure. [Image Source: PaulKraus.com]

Until I opened an email from my daughter’s school recently, I thought that asbestos in schools and other public buildings was a rare thing. Apparently, I was quite wrong.

In one of the weekly emails from my daughter’s school, it was announced that previously planned building renovations would begin during Spring Break. The full construction would take place over the summer, but during Spring Break, while kids were out of the school, workers would begin tackling asbestos abatement.

Now, in all honesty, I didn’t really pay too much attention to the email. This was mostly because I thought that if the announcement was such a big deal, we would surely get more than just a passing mention of it in an email.

I don’t think I was alone in believing that the danger of asbestos exposure was a problem of yesterday.

After reading about Paul Kraus, I noticed the links to other “related stories” that show up after you read articles online. To my surprise, I found that the hazards of asbestos are still, unfortunately, widespread. A big part of the problem is that although 54 countries around the world ban the use of asbestos in building materials, the U.S. is not one of them. Consequently, the government leaves it up to individual states to regulate asbestos usage and to mandate removal of the cancer-causing fibrous minerals. Not surprisingly, this has led to bureaucratic arguments about who is responsible for absorbing the cost of asbestos removal.

Asbestos education and awareness is key; reach out to your school and local government representatives to find out if your district is at risk and to advocate for aggressive action on removals in affected areas. [Image Source: HealthChild.org]

Meanwhile, as money battles rage at the local government level, children and teachers remain at risk in certain states. In 2015 Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA) launched an investigation into asbestos in America’s schools and were disheartened by what the results revealed. Their findings led them to author a report that proposes sweeping changes to the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), which was passed in 1980. The Senators’ recommendations include increasing regular asbestos hazard inspections, allocating more funds to schools for asbestos abatement, EPA regulation of AHERA compliance every 10 years and more public access to asbestos education.

Increased awareness is certainly a good start, especially for parents, teachers and school administrators, but my hope is that Congress is moving closer towards the day when there will be a total ban on asbestos in this country. It’s the only way to guarantee our kids’ safety from this cancerous threat.

And since we’re living in a time when local political action and community involvement is higher than ever, it’s certainly a worthy platform to put on the table when we reach out to our district representatives.

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