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EPA Settlement Will Bring Puerto Rico Schools into Compliance with Asbestos Regulations

Release Date: 02/27/2004
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(#0420) San Juan, P.R. – To ensure that Puerto Rico schools comply with federal asbestos-management requirements for schools, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached an agreement with the Government of Puerto Rico that requires the Commonwealth to spend at least $5.6 million to identify and fix asbestos problems in the schools. EPA issued a complaint to Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDOE) on September 30, 2003 for violations of the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) at five schools. Under AHERA, penalties collected for violations must be used to correct the problems.

"While this settlement lays out what must be done in the future, EPA has been working with the Commonwealth since last summer to help evaluate the condition of asbestos-containing materials in individual schools," said Jane M. Kenny, EPA Regional Administrator. "The penalties collected for the violations will provide the Commonwealth with the money to do the necessary work."

Prior to the current school year, EPA worked with the Commonwealth to ensure that PRDOE conducted visual evaluations of approximately 400 schools with asbestos-containing materials to identify areas with damaged asbestos-containing material and then repaired or isolated those areas. The Commonwealth also agreed to notify parents, teachers and school employees about the findings, areas where damaged asbestos-containing materials were observed and the actions taken to address them.

Under the settlement announced today, PRDOE will submit a plan to EPA and the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board (EQB) that identifies at least one person in each school who will be trained on AHERA requirements. The agreement also stipulates that the PRDOE will inspect all schools by August 31, 2004, and inspect schools built prior to 1989 – those most likely to contain asbestos – by May 31, 2004. PRDOE will fix any asbestos problems or immediately isolate areas until they can be properly addressed. PRDOE will also submit monthly progress reports to EPA, inform the public of all abatement work and clearly mark the areas to be abated or isolated. According to the terms of the settlement, PRDOE will also conduct all other required semiannual and triennial inspections; develop and update asbestos management plans, develop operations and maintenance plans and keep records of all asbestos-related activities in all schools. All information pertaining to the above requirements must be available for public review in each school. The settlement prescribes a penalty that must be deposited in a government bank account that will be used to fund the work.

AHERA requires local educational authorities to inspect all school buildings for visible damage, develop and implement asbestos-management plans and keep the public, students and teachers informed about asbestos-related hazards. The Clean Air Act dictates how asbestos should be removed. It requires that the material be kept wet at all times, that areas being disturbed be sealed off and that all materials that are removed be properly stored so that asbestos does not become airborne.