The Los Angeles Board of Education agreed on Monday to allocate almost $15 million for a federally mandated search for asbestos in about 700 local school buildings.
The seven-member board voted unanimously to provide the funds for a school-by-school survey to determine if asbestos is present in such building materials as ceiling plaster and linoleum-type floors.
Under the federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, which took effect in December, all schools nationwide are required to undertake surveys to identify and assess the condition of all asbestos in schools, including asbestos that is combined with other materials, called secondary asbestos. As previously required, the Los Angeles Unified School District has been inspecting its schools annually for the presence of asbestos insulation and other forms of primary asbestos, a material that is known to cause lung damage.
According to Margaret Scholl, a director of maintenance for the district, the survey is precautionary. Secondary asbestos does not usually present a health hazard unless it is dispersed during renovation or replacement and becomes airborne, she said.
The board will allocate about $5 million for the survey for the current school year. About $10 million will be allocated for the next school year.
According to Scholl, surveyors will go into empty schools and take small samples of floors, walls and other areas that may contain asbestos. The surveyors will wear protective clothing and respirators during the process. The areas sampled will be sealed, and the samples tested in a laboratory for the presence of asbestos. Scholl estimated that between 100,000 and 300,000 samples will be taken and evaluated.
The new regulations also require school districts to develop an asbestos management plan for each school, due in October, the official said.
Scholl said the district has already begun the project by retraining about 30 maintenance workers as asbestos surveyors according to standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
"I don't think any other school district in the country has trained, accredited people," Scholl said. The district decided to train its own inspectors because there are so few nationwide and because the need for surveyors will be an ongoing one, she noted.
Scholl said secondary asbestos would most probably show up in schools built during the 1940s, '50s and '60s, before asbestos was widely known to be harmful. The official said that about a third of the district's buildings date from that period.
The board also unanimously endorsed the allocation of $677,000 for monitoring of potentially hazardous levels of lead in school drinking fountains and other water sources this school year and next. Supt. Leonard M. Britton said it is vital that the safety of school water be assured.
"Where we are with lead in our drinking water may be where we were with asbestos several years ago," Britton said.