More than 180 Chicago schools have asbestos present in a way that could be hazardous to students and teachers, according to a report released Thursday by the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Working Group.
The report includes a map of all schools where inspectors, hired by CPS, found asbestos.
Asbestos is dangerous when it is in a location where it can easily crumble and be inhaled.
Asbestos exposure has been shown to cause certain cancers. But, because the cancers are latent for several decades, it is hard to trace the cancer back to a single source.
The most compelling evidence that schools are a big risk is studies that have shown elementary school teachers are twice as likely to die from mesothelioma—one of the cancers directly linked to asbestos.
“I think most people understand the threat that it poses,” said Sarah Grantham, policy analyst for the advocacy organization. “But I do not think most people understand that it is still a threat.”
Grantham said the group examined publicly available Chicago Public Schools inspection reports and found that asbestos was present in school hallways, restrooms, classrooms, auditoriums and teachers’ lounges.
In many cases, inspectors recommended that the district fix problems, but the district mostly did nothing. “That was shocking,” she said.
Grantham acknowledges that asbestos cleanup is costly and the federal government provides no help.
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said that the district has spent more than $54 million addressing environmental concerns, but she did not specify how much of that was on asbestos cleanup. She also said that the district has a $3.2 billion backlog of deferred maintenance.
Bittner said the district prioritizes imminent health and safety problems.
“We are committed to providing a safe and welcoming environment for our students and staff,” she said in a prepared statement.