Asbestos World Watch

In Australia , schools in the state of Western Australia have more than 21,000 types of asbestos materials, and 769 schools still contain asbestos fences, walls, flooring, and sunshades, according to a parliamentary inquiry into asbestos into the state’s schools. “There is an extensive presence of ACM (asbestos-containing materials) in State schools,” according to a report submitted by the inquiry committee. “The Asbestos Survey identified over 21,000 ACM components in 769 State schools.” Although the State School Teachers Union has called for all asbestos-contaminated material to be removed from all schools and colleges, that is unlikely to happen for economic reasons, as it would essentially entail rebuilding every school in Western Australia.

Disturbingly, the inquiry discovered that established safety procedures had failed in at least one school, when an electrician unwittingly worked on asbestos-containing components without any safety protocols. More seriously, 60 cases of branches rubbing against asbestos-containing materials, wearing them and possibly releasing asbestos fibers, had been reported. There were other incidents which state government officials described as “low risk”. In the United Kingdom, visitors, staff and parliamentarians at London’s Houses of Parliament have been potentially exposed to dangerously high levels of asbestos contamination over the last three years. The asbestos was discovered in 2005, but the government had issued assurances that the material was safely contained and posed no health threat. Among other problems identified by journalists, a number of easily-accessible sites in the Houses of Parliament contained asbestos and were not properly secured against inadvertent exposure. One kitchen cupboard containing asbestos-containing materials was wedged shut with a kitchen spoon, and other contaminated cupboards and storage areas were routinely accessed by cleaners and staff members. More than 200 contaminated sites in the buildings were identified in the asbestos survey carried out in 2005.

Air-quality tests indicated that 40 of the sites had no fibers in the air, but the testers made no statement about the remaining 160 locations, leading observers to suspect that this was because those sites were in fact releasing asbestos fibers. Asbestos-containing materials in good condition are often left untouched, on the theory that the removal process would cause more health risks, particularly for work crews, than simply containing the asbestos in place. Asbestos-related diseases are a serious concern in the United Kingdoms, with 1800 new diagnoses of asbestosis, asbestos-related lung cancer, or mesothelioma each year in England alone. It is thought that throughout the United Kingdom, deaths from asbestos-related conditions will top 30,000 by the year 2020.