Utah deserves better grades than it got this week from the Environmental Protection Agency.
A report card issued by the EPA lists Utah as slightly above the middle of the pack in meeting federal rules for preparing to clean up asbestos in the schools. But the report is somewhat outdated and Utah - with one exception - is doing much better than the ranking shows.Back in 1986, Congress recognized the health problems associated with asbestos insulation used in many older buildings. The material was found to cause chronic lung disease and various forms of cancer when the microscopic fibers are inhaled.
Under the law, public and private schools were given until Oct. 16, 1988, to inspect all buildings and come up with a plan to remove any asbestos. For those who applied, a 6-month extension was granted to May 10, 1989.
The 1986 law required school districts to hire inspectors approved by the EPA to determine if asbestos danger existed in any schools and to come up with a cleanup plan if asbestos was found.
This week's EPA report noted that only Arkansas and West Virginia had 100 percent of schools that either asked for extensions or carried out the inspections by the October 1988 deadline. The rest ranged from 55 percent to 99 percent compliance. Utah was listed at 85.7 percent.
Actual cleanup efforts are supposed to start by July.
Yet the EPA report only shows how things stood in October. Utah had some schools that were a few days late in submitting their information. At the present time, about 99 percent of the state's public schools and all private schools have done the asbestos inspections. Some have already begun cleanup projects.
Only Juab School District has failed to file an inspection report or to ask for an extension, despite reminders from the Health Department and the EPA. As a result, the district is in technical violation of the law and could be fined as much as $5,000 a day if the EPA wanted to play tough, although that's unlikely at this point.
Utah schools are to be commended for their efforts and the Juab District should move quickly to join the others. This is not a case of bureaucratic rules and regulations; this is a case of protecting the health of Utah's school children. It must be taken seriously.