Asbestos is one of history’s most popular building materials, with its use dating back thousands of years.
It was commonly used throughout the 20th century during the construction of a huge range of buildings, both domestic and public, and it wasn’t until decades of mainstream use that the dangers of asbestos became apparent.
The use of asbestos was fully banned in 1999, and government initiatives to remove remaining asbestos have been in motion for years. But despite the fact that asbestos has not been used in construction for over fifteen years, there remains a large amount of asbestos in many buildings throughout the country. A large number of these are schools.
With the recent news of the death of a retired teacher who had unwittingly been exposed to asbestos in her classroom for over 30 years, we’re taking a closer look at asbestos and how its presence in our schools poses a real threat to our children.
How harmful is asbestos?
Put simply, asbestos is one of the most dangerous building materials in the world. Left untouched, asbestos shouldn’t pose a threat to humans, but when the asbestos fibres are disturbed, exposed into the air and breathed in, they can cause fatal illnesses such as asbestosis and mesothelioma – a type of lung cancer.
Symptoms of asbestos exposure can take years to surface, with many cases of asbestos-related disease not appearing until 15-60 years after initial exposure. These diseases are almost always fatal, and are hard to detect early. Often, people won’t be aware that they have ever been directly exposed to asbestos, and will assume symptoms such as shortness of breath, persistent dry coughs or tightness of the chest are not related, and not a sign of anything more serious.
Asbestos in schools
With the stakes so high when it comes to asbestos, it’s not surprising that there is so much scrutiny around its presence, particularly when it comes to Britain’s schools. Despite being used so prevalently, it’s hard to know how much asbestos is in a particular school, or whether or not it contains the material at all.
This makes asbestos-related deaths in schools even more tragic. The recent case we mentioned earlier, where a teacher who had unknowingly been exposed to asbestos for over 30 years and died from mesothelioma at age 68, demonstrates the long reach of asbestos. The teacher, Sue Stephens, would regularly use a staple gun to pin children’s work to the walls, without realising the walls contained asbestos. Even small disturbances like these are enough to expose the microscopic asbestos fibres, and breathing these in regularly over an extended period of time can easily prove fatal.
Schools built before the year 2000 are likely to contain at least some asbestos, and the obvious concern here is the health of the thousands of children who attend these schools each day for years on end.
Local councils across the UK have paid out at least £10 million in compensation for students, teachers and other school employees who have been affected by asbestos in their school. This goes to show that official bodies are well aware of the dangers related to asbestos, especially in the school environment.
The focus should now be on safely removing all remaining asbestos to avoid more cases of mesothelioma in the future. If asbestos is allowed to remain, and if information about asbestos is not made more easily accessible throughout our schools, we could be dealing with the consequences of asbestos exposure for many decades to come.
Safe removal of asbestos
It is of critical importance to thoroughly test for the presence of asbestos before any renovations, repairs or demolitions are carried out. Unsafe removal of asbestos in schools can expose hundreds of pupils to a massive amount of asbestos fibres, and this senseless risk can be prevented by taking the proper precautions before any work takes place.
Asbestos is near impossible to identify without professional analysis, so older schools should have a dedicated asbestos survey to identify the risk before there is a chance of the material being disturbed. Asbestos removal should only be performed by fully qualified experts who know how to handle asbestos safely, without risking widespread exposure in the process.
No chances should be taken with asbestos in schools, and while there is still a large amount of asbestos out there, it’s a positive sign that more and more people are pushing for a renewed and dedicated drive to rid asbestos from school buildings. Hopefully this will bear significant results in the near future.
ProDEM provide a completely safe, efficient and effective asbestos removal service throughout Nottingham, Derby, Leicester and the surrounding areas. Our highly trained team of experts use their knowledge and experience to identify, handle, remove and dispose of asbestos to the strictest standards of safety. We understand the dangers of asbestos, and carry out all our work with complete professional care. For more information about our asbestos removal service, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today.