Gov Watchdog: EPA failed to properly monitor asbestos at schools

Gov Watchdog: EPA failed to properly monitor asbestos at schools
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The government watchdog overseeing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that the agency failed in its duties to properly monitor asbestos levels at schools. 

Between fiscal years 2011 and 2015, the EPA only conducted 13 percent of the school inspections it was responsible for statewide, an EPA Office of Inspector General (IG) report released Monday found. 

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The EPA's management of its asbestos monitoring duties paled in comparison to states that ran their own programs, the study also found. States with jurisdiction over their own inspections performed 87 percent of the inspections they were tasked with.

The EPA also significantly reduced — and in some cases eliminated — the resources available for asbestos monitoring, the report found.

In five of the ten EPA regions, representatives of the agency only monitored schools for asbestos after receiving a compliant or request, a reactive approach the EPA IG office said made it impossible to know "whether schools pose an actual risk of asbestos exposure to students and personnel."

Asbestos is a cancer- and mesothelioma-causing mineral that is frequently found in building supply fibers. It's especially harmful to children.

An EPA spokesperson blamed failures under the Obama administration for the lack of monitoring at schools.

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"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.

Asbestos is not banned on the federal level, except for a few specific uses, but a 2016 law gave the EPA new authority to prohibit the carcinogen. More recently the agency has come under criticism for its new plans.

The EPA’s proposal, released publicly in June, came under criticism that it would open the door to widespread uses of asbestos. EPA officials have ardently denied the accusations, saying the proposed regulations would effectively ban the substance.

But staff emails first reported on by The New York Times show significant concerns among employees last spring regarding part of the agency’s approach to what's known as a significant new use rule (SNUR).

The agency chose to list 15 known uses of asbestos, even though none are currently in use, and proposed that companies be required to notify the EPA if they want to use asbestos in those situations, a move that would give the agency time to examine and potentially ban them.