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COST OF ASBESTOS CAMPAIGN LUDICROUS

I know there are few things in life more futile than taking potshots at the government for its various little idiocies, but I feel compelled.

Last week, Jordan District announced that a government-mandated program to seek out and get rid of or encapsulate asbestos in its buildings will cost a half million dollars in the next couple of years.The effort to survey schools and document the presence of asbestos-bearing building materials already has cost the district more than $90,000.

Multiply that one district's problems by 40 districts in the state and the costs are expected to mount up to near $50 million.

If the threat of asbestos were hovering over our schoolchildren like a vulture waiting to strike, any cost would be worth it. The simple fact is that as a health risk, asbestos ranks far down the list.

As the Jordan Board was told, a Harvard University study of the potential causes of death among 50,000 people anticipated that not one person in that number would die of asbestos-related illness. Statistically, a half death would be attributed to the group based on past experience. More than half of the 50,000 could be expected to die of heart disease - much of it attributable to environmental effects. Now, there's a good place to put some money and educational effort!

The costs being imposed on the nation's schools in the asbestos issue are far out of proportion to the actual risk to health.

When it was discovered that asbestos posed a risk for workers directly involved in jobs using the material, the government took steps to abolish its use. Building materials now are essentially asbestos-free.

That does leave many older buildings in which materials were used that contain asbestos. In those buildings, if there are deteriorating materials that actually release fibers into the air, remedial work is called for to protect all those who occupy the building.

But the expensive extremes being imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency are understandably resented by school districts.

As Jordan Board Member Maurine Jensen pointed out, schoolchildren leave the buildings that are the object of the great asbestos hunt and go to homes that are built with essentially the same materials.

Utah's schools are also facing the same kind of search-and-destroy efforts for possible lead poisoning from water fountains and from radon gas. And experts say there are rumblings concerning fiberglass, which would portend a horrendous problem for anyone who works or lives - or goes to school - in a modern structure.

If the feds really wanted to protect the safety and well-being of children - short of wrapping them in cotton at birth and storing them in atmosphere-controlled (unbreakable) plastic containers - they could concentrate on the known hazards of tobacco, alcohol and other harmful substances.

They could put some big bucks into early education about the hazards of saturated fats and cholesterol that accumulate in blood vessels, leading to heart attacks, strokes and other debilitating or deadly diseases later in life.

They could even suggest that schools put more money into guidance counselors and social workers who might help kids at risk to cope with underlying problems that lead to early pregnancy, dropping out, and other socially expensive activities.

Measured on that scale, asbestos becomes a miniscule threat.

Instead, districts such as Jordan and many others have cut their counseling staffs drastically to maintain their basic academic programs.

To have to shell out money for a dubious safety issue such as asbestos, in this era of squeaky-tight budgets, is painfully ludicrous.

At the very least, the EPA, if it is going to impose such stringent requirements on schools, should dip into federal coffers to pay for them, rather than requiring the funding from districts already struggling to make ends meet.