Although asbestos hasn’t been widely used in building materials since the mid 1980s plenty of standing home, industrial and other commercial sites still carry asbestos in cement sheeting – including schools.
This is why the Victorian Government recently introduced a program to remove asbestos from all schools by 2020. Other states have issued similar plans, such as the Queensland Government’s 2010 review whose recommendations were put into legislation.
There is no 'safe' asbestos
While asbestos may not be in its most threatening state when left alone, no amount of the material is safe. Fibres from asbestos sheeting are too thick for the lungs to distribute or eject safely, and can cause scarring over long periods of exposure.
This scarring can lead to asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, the terminal cancer only related to asbestos exposure.
While asbestos sheeting might lie dormant in schools, it still presents potential risk. For instance, schools may hire builders to extend classrooms without knowing that the building structure contains asbestos material. Once disturbed, that material poses a significant risk to staff and students.
To avert this risk a public register of each school’s asbestos audit would minimise the risk of asbestos being disturbed without appropriate measures being undertaken to ensure its safe removal.
For example, a class of prep students in the Victorian suburb of Thornbury was found to have been exposed to asbestos material during renovations. This demonstrates why it’s safer to remove asbestos completely from the school environment
Removal programs work under strict guidelines
Several state schemes to remove asbestos in schools have generally been operated under strict guidelines. Specifically, removalists must be registered and are typically designated under two types of classes.
For instance, in Victoria, the school asbestos removal program names principals as being the local managers of the school’s facilities and therefore in charge of any asbestos removal program.
In Victoria, schools are required by law to maintain and review a register that details any asbestos present in the school, and then provide that to any parent of a student who wishes to see it.
Any asbestos removal is also performed outside of school hours to ensure the safety of staff and students. Removalists also put up clear warning signs to warn staff and students of any asbestos exposure.
Schools are better off with no asbestos
While asbestos may not pose an immediate risk while left alone, schools are still better off in the long term by removing it. By hiring approved removalists to take out the asbestos, schools can tell parents their students are not at risk – and any further building projects can go ahead with no risk to student health.