Asbestos Scandal in France 2023
The broadcast of a documentary on France 5 a public television channel earlier this month set off a torrent of outrage over the continued presence of asbestos in French nursery and primary schools. The program was transmitted at 9:30 p.m. on June 12, 2023 as part of the series Vert de Rage (English translation: beside yourself with anger).1 The revelation that more than one in three French schools, serving 700,000 students, were still contaminated with asbestos a substance banned in 1997 reverberated long after the show had ended. Scores of newspaper and online articles disseminated the programs findings with local news outlets listing the names of toxic schools.2 The day after the broadcast, MP Louis Boyard stood up in Parliament demanding that the: National Assembly, accept our request for a commission of enquiry to find solutions and protect these children from [exposures to] asbestos.3 Boyards request was supported by several MPs. ANDEVA, the French umbrella group representing asbestos victims throughout the country, called on the Minister of Education to put an emergency plan in place to prioritize the safety of all school users.4
Poster for France 5 documentary Amiante dans les Ecoles: Élèves et Professeurs en Danger [Asbestos in Schools: Students and Teachers in Danger].
As damning as the content of the program was, the reporters admitted that the truth was much worse. No one had ever done an asbestos survey of the countrys schools before, so the primary research required took eight months to complete. During this time, officials at 19,331 schools and 37,077 town halls were contacted, with tens of thousands of emails and phone calls made and dozens of tests undertaken to measure asbestos fiber levels in classrooms.5
Commenting on the frustration experienced by the tv researchers, Mathilde Cusin, co-director of Vert de Rage, said:
Despite these thousands of requests, journalists have often come up against a wall of silence: nothing is known about the presence (or absence) of asbestos in two thirds of the schools. Of the 15,804 schools for which the Vert de Rage teams obtained information, we learned that 5,505, or more than a third, show traces of asbestos. Conversely, we know that 4,771 schools do not contain any. For the others, we have information concerning the diagnoses made, but not their conclusions.6
According to the documentary, the city with the worst affected schools was Paris.7 Asbestos was found in 440 out of 644 public schools (nearly 70%) in the capital. Of the 7,029 schools in the Île-de-France the region in north-central France surrounding Paris 993 contained asbestos, one in seven. This was, wrote journalist A. Albert, an underestimate because 4,254 establishments in the region did not agree to communicate their information. Ninety per cent of the schools tested contained asbestos and 40% exceeded U.S safety standards. Between 1998 and 2017, 60 teachers developed mesothelioma, the signature cancer associated with asbestos exposure, every year.
Responding to journalists enquiries, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education said it did not have up-to-date information on asbestos in schools and that this issue was the responsibility of local authorities.
June 27, 2023
1 Other translations of vert de rage are: livid, furious, incandescent with rage, hopping mad.
Putavy,T. Amiante ζ l'ζcole: au moins 5500 ζtablissements encore touchζs [Asbestos at school: at least 5,500 establishments still affected]. June 12, 2023.
2 Sicard, C. Amiante dans les écoles: « 700 000 enfants potentiellement concernés » daprès une enquête [Asbestos in schools: "700,000 children potentially concerned" according to a survey]. June 19, 2023.
Allec, S. Amiante dans les écoles: 10% des établissements scolaires concernés en Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes [Asbestos in schools: 10% of schools concerned in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes]. June 12, 2023.https://france3-regions.francetvinfo.fr/auvergne-rhone-alpes/rhone/lyon/amiante-dans-les-ecoles-10-d-etablissements-scolaires-concernes-en-auvergne-rhone-alpes-2793078.html
3 VIDÉOS - Amiante dans les écoles: La France insoumise demande une commission d'enquête parlementaire [VIDEOS - Asbestos in schools: [the political party] France Rebels calls for a parliamentary commission of inquiry]. June 13, 2023.
4 AMIANTE DANS LES ÉCOLES = DANGER: conférence de presse avant diffusion. [Asbestos in Schools = Danger: press conference before broadcast]. June 13, 2023.
5 AMIANTE DANS LES ÉCOLES = DANGER: conférence de presse avant diffusion. [Asbestos in Schools = Danger: press conference before broadcast]. June 13, 2023.
6 Amiante: votre école fait-elle partie des milliers d'établissements encore concernés, plus de 25 ans après l'interdiction? [Asbestos: is your school one of the thousands of establishments still affected, more than 25 years after the ban?] June 13, 2023.
7 Albert, A. Amiante: 70 % des écoles parisiennes concernées [Asbestos: 70% of Parisian schools concerned].
June 13, 2023.