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DEATHS FROM ASBESTOS IN SCHOOLS

Part of "Information on asbestos in schools"

 

Statistics list teachers’ deaths from mesothelioma
The HSE publish statistics that list deaths from mesothelioma classified under the occupation noted on the death certificate 95. There are two groups of teachers; professional teachers and teachers’ assistants and childcare occupations. What they have in common is that they all work with children in a classroom or playgroup (Extracts from the statistics are in the annex to this paper, they are listed in tables entitled Stats 1, Stats 2 etc).
During a ten year period 79 primary, secondary school and special education teachers died of mesothelioma.

My wife’s death from mesothelioma was most certainly not unique amongst other teachers. Between 1991 to 2000 a total of 73 primary and secondary school teachers died from mesothelioma. 79 qualified teachers died if teachers not elsewhere classified, and special education needs teachers are included. If qualified teachers in higher education are included then there were a further 49 mesothelioma deaths. If education assistants, nursery nurses and childcare related occupations are included then the total number of mesothelioma deaths was 145.96(Stats 2,3,4,9)
US statistics highlight primary school teachers mesothelioma deaths.

In 2003 a US Government publication listed occupational deaths from mesothelioma. They stated:

“Occupations associated with significantly elevated mesothelioma mortality in 1999 include: plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters, mechanical engineers, and elementary school teachers.” 97

Why should teachers die from asbestos exposure?

Why should there be so many deaths among teachers from mesothelioma when it is a profession where there should be little or no exposure to asbestos?

The simple conclusion is that they have been exposed to asbestos. Other papers within this document give the evidence of my wife’s exposure in schools over the course of her thirty year teaching career. Those papers are not on this web site. Her exposure appears to be typical of other teachers, and such exposures are eminently capable of causing mesothelioma.

Children exposed to asbestos
If teachers have been exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos then so have the children in their classes. In state schools in England each school teacher statistically has 17.7 children in their classroom 98, these figures will differ in other parts of the UK and in special and independent schools. The fundamental point is that for every teacher there are many children and every person attends school for at least 10 years of their life.
Children are the most vulnerable to asbestos exposure
In 1985 Doll and Peto estimated that once an asbestos exposure has taken place then the risk of developing mesothelioma increases dramatically with the passage of time. (Time since exposure to the power 3 for a brief exposures and to the power of 4 for continuous exposure )99 Consequently if a thirty year old teacher and a five year old child are equally exposed to asbestos, with frequent low level exposures over the course of a year, then the child is three and a half times more likely than the teacher to develop mesothelioma by the age of eighty 100. Some experts consider that as well as being more vulnerable to developing the disease because of their longer life expectancy, children are more at risk because of the fact that they breath more often, they are more active and they are closer to the floor where asbestos dust accumulates 101. Others consider that in addition because of their physical immaturity 102, their cellular growth and metabolic rates are more rapid making them more vulnerable to any carcinogen including asbestos 103. The Government recognised forty years ago that children are particularly vulnerable to developing mesothelioma from asbestos exposure 104, and this remains the opinion held by experts 105 including the HSE.106
US estimates of deaths among children from school asbestos exposure
In 1980 the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wrote a report which estimated that the numbers of deaths from school exposures could be from 100 to 7,000 with a best estimate of 1,000 over the course of thirty years. 90% of these deaths they considered would be amongst the children 107. A later paper estimated that 1000 deaths would occur as a direct result of exposures amongst school children where asbestos was used in the walls of their schools 108. The estimate was based on the assumption of about 8,500 schools containing friable asbestos, with 3,000,000 pupils 109. However by law all schools were then required to identify the extent of their asbestos, and those results showed that 34,800 schools contained friable asbestos and 15,000,000 pupils were at risk. A five fold increase in the children at risk. 110
Different estimates on likely fibre release
In 1984 a report by the Canadian Government, and in 1985 an HSC report by Peto and Doll considered that the risk from asbestos in buildings was less than the American study had found. However the HSE and Canadian conclusions were based purely on taking ambient air sampling in buildings, whereas the American EPA study had taken ambient air samples but considered that if reviewed in isolation they gave an inaccurate picture of the actual conditions. They therefore took into account the particular vulnerability of children and the special circumstances of schools and estimated the likely fibre release taking into account the peak exposures due to classroom activity, and the deterioration and vandalism of ACMs within the classroom, and they based their conclusions on that.111
The HSE has no estimates on childhood asbestos exposure deaths
The HSE were recently asked to give an estimate of the number of children dying as a result of asbestos exposure at school in this country, however they declined to give an estimate 112. In addition they confirmed that there are no specific statistics that give a likely figure 113. As can be seen above, there is a method of calculating the proportional increase in risk of developing mesothelioma of children over adults. Hence as the number of deaths is known amongst teachers an estimate could be made of how many children have, and will develop mesothelioma from asbestos exposures they experienced at school. The Americans acknowledged there was a problem, and for the last twenty five years have taken effective measures to protect their children, whereas it appears as if our Government has avoided acknowledging the extent of the problem. Perhaps that partially explains why the measures that they have taken so far to protect our children have been woefully inadequate. The role of the DfES and the HSE is detailed in a separate paper which will be added to this web site.
More than twenty five years ago USA ensured effective management of asbestos in schools
In 1979 the EPA introduced a voluntary school asbestos programme which drew up guidelines. In 1982 this was made mandatory where schools had to carry out asbestos surveys and notify teachers and parents of potential exposures 114. In 1984 the American Government allocated considerable funds in loans and grants for the removal of asbestos from schools. In 1986 it introduced specific laws to ensure the safe and effective management of asbestos in their schools 115, and at the same time the EPA introduced an extensive training programme to ensure that the laws could be effectively implemented. 117
   
Ireland will remove all asbestos from schools
Recently the Republic of Ireland took the decision to treat schools as a special case and remove the asbestos from their buildings. They acknowledge that normally asbestos in good condition can be left in situ, however recognise that children are particularly vulnerable from asbestos, and hence the removal of asbestos is the only option. Their Government has allocated significant funds so that this can be achieved
   
Refurbish all secondary schools and half of primary schools
In 2004 the Government launched the Building Schools for the Future Initiative (BSF) which will refurbish or rebuild all secondary schools in the country over the next 15 years. In 2005 they announced that they would also rebuild or refurbish half of the primary schools. A complete rebuild or total removal of all of the asbestos is the only way to permanently solve the asbestos problem. If this occurs and the programme is carried out effectively it will eventually result in children being safe from asbestos in state schools. As the programme will not be complete until 2020 every school must implement effective asbestos management plans in the interim. However if asbestos is left in the schools that are being refurbished then it will always have to be effectively managed. To ensure that this happens, the DfES and the Government must provide the guidance and resources so that schools can manage their asbestos, and the HSE must implement effective measures to regulate the management and the refurbishment.
Independent schools are not part of the initiative
No funds have been allocated for refurbishing or rebuilding independent schools 118, which will mean that their asbestos will remain in situ unless the school authorities raise the necessary funds for removal. Any asbestos that is left in situ will always have to be effectively managed.

 

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