Indiana is one of many states that relies on the Environmental Protection Agency to make sure its schools are keeping kids safe from asbestos. In high doses, it can cause cancer and other diseases. But a new report by the agency’s internal watchdog shows the EPA isn’t making asbestos a priority.
The EPA oversees most states, but only conducted 13 percent of all asbestos compliance inspections from 2011 to 2015. States responsible for their own asbestos monitoring did 87 percent. That means states that aren't doing their own monitoring aren't getting as many compliance inspections.
Indiana’s EPA region, Region 5, did even fewer inspections than the others. Hilda Canes Garduno is a project manager with the EPA’s Office of Inspector General. She says asbestos hasn’t been banned in the U.S. and is still a risk to kids.
“It’s entirely possible that newer or renovated schools may contain building materials with asbestos,” she says.
The money for the asbestos program comes out of a shared fund to regulate toxic chemicals. This past fiscal year, 90 percent of that fund was dedicated to lead programs — leaving very little for the EPA to tackle things like asbestos. Canes Garduno says each region of the EPA should be required to have an asbestos strategy.
“Thinking about how, even with their very limited resources they may still be able to conduct inspections," she says. "We think that by having that as a requirement for the regions — which it is not at the moment —that really would focus attention."
Another concerning finding in the report was that half of the EPA regions only do asbestos compliance inspections in schools when they receive a tip or complaint.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.