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Report urges Congress to restore funding for asbestos removal in schools

School districts have long been on their own when it comes to dealing with asbestos, a new report from the Environmental Working Group Action Fund found.

According to the sister organization of the Environmental Working Group, which has been a vocal supporter of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform bill introduced by Sens. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Harris launch Trump offensive in first joint appearance Bottom line Polls show big bounce to Biden ahead of Super Tuesday MORE (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), it’s been more than 20 years since Congress set aside funds to help schools address asbestos exposure.

“Many schools built before the early 1980s almost certainly contain asbestos, and almost every week brings another story of asbestos found in schools – disrupting education, displacing students and disturbing parents,” the report’s author and EWG Action Fund Advisor Bill Walker said in a release. “It’s a national problem that demands a national solution, starting with a total ban on asbestos.”

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The report comes as lawmakers on Capitol Hill debate how best to reform the nation's toxic chemical laws with two competing bills in the Senate.

Environmentalists have widely opposed the bill introduced by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and David Vitter (R-La.) despite the fact that it appears to have enough bipartisan support to be the winning legislation.

The action fund report said 1984 was the last time the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted a nationwide survey to determine the extent of the potential dangers asbestos posed to students, faculty and other school employees. 

Of the 2,600 public school districts and private schools sampled, the action fund said EPA estimated that 15 million students and 1.4 million teachers, administrators and other employees – in almost 35,000 schools – were at risk of exposure to deadly airborne asbestos fibers.

The report calls on Congress to restore funding to school districts for asbestos abatement and enact a total ban on the toxic substance, which can be attributed to more than 10,000 deaths a year.

In a statement, US EPA said the agency is reviewing the report.

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During a press conference Tuesday, Boxer called on Udall and Vitter to “fix their toxic chemical bill before it goes to mark-up as early as next week.”

Boxer said the Udall-Vitter bill is worse than the current TSCA law because it only provides for the assessment of 25 chemicals over five years, it “eviscerates states rights to protect their people from cancer-causing chemicals and “it does nothing to address asbestos.”

“The bill doesn’t even mention the word asbestos,” she said. “And experts say regulation of asbestos under the Udall-Vitter bill will never, ever happen.”

In a response Tuesday evening, Udall’s office called those statements “blatantly false.”

"It is blatantly false to say that Senator Udall's bill would prevent the regulation of asbestos,” Udall’s Spokeswoman Jennifer Talhelm said in a statement. “Senator Udall's bill specifically corrects the flaws in current TSCA to finally give EPA the ability to regulate asbestos as well as BPA, styrene, and many other dangerous chemicals. If we don't act — or if we hold out for an unworkable proposal — these chemicals will continue to flow through commerce unregulated, and our kids will never have the protection they need to be safe."