Children and Asbestos: A Bad Mix! 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Today (June 7, 2013), the UK's Committee on Carcinogenicity (CoC) issued its findings on the relative vulnerability of children to asbestos.1 This subject has been discussed at various CoC meetings over the last two years, the most recent of which was on May 9, 2013.2 The Committee concentrated on two issues: whether, following asbestos exposure, children could be more likely than adults to subsequently develop the asbestos cancer mesothelioma because they would have more of their expected lifespan ahead of them (typically, mesothelioma has a latency of 30-50 years); and whether children could be more vulnerable because of physical immaturity.

By unanimous agreement it was decided that the mesothelioma risk for children is higher because of the increased time available for the disease to develop. The CoC agreed that, following similar exposure to asbestos, a five-year-old is 5.3 times more likely to develop mesothelioma by the age of 80 than a 30-year-old. In the CoC's final statement they say: “we conclude that exposure of children to asbestos is likely to render them more vulnerable to developing mesothelioma than exposure of adults to an equivalent asbestos dose.”

This finding is in line with evidence submitted by Robin Howie to the CoC. In a paper entitled: Effect of Children's Age and Life Expectation on Mesothelioma Risk, he concluded that: “Increasing life expectancy therefore has a significant impact on mesothelioma risk for both children and young adults.”3

Howie's findings were echoed by Epidemiologist Professor Julian Peto's evidence to the Education Select Committee Hearing on Asbestos in Schools on March 13, 2013. “It is reasonable to say,” Peto told the Committee, “that something in the order of 100 or 150 deaths per year from mesothelioma in women could in the future be due to asbestos levels in schools up to the 1960s and 1970s.” “It is a reasonable assumption,” he added “that the same number of males as females are dying of mesothelioma caused by their asbestos exposure at school.” Asbestos in Schools Campaigner Michael Lees believes that “more than 3,000 mesothelioma deaths could occur because of asbestos exposure as a child at school.”4

The CoC was unable to reach a conclusion regarding the vulnerability of children due to physical immaturity; however, a leading paediatrician told the CoC that as the juvenile lung is particularly susceptible to injury, lung damage sustained below the age of four would be permanent.

Reacting to the news of the CoC's final statement, on June 7th Annette Brooke MP, Chair of the Asbestos in Schools Group, said:

“In light of the publication of this report, I call on the Government to urgently review their policies on asbestos in schools. The Department of Education must publish a strategic plan involving an audit of school buildings and an assessment of the risks. Over a period of time the plan must aim for the removal of the most dangerous asbestos material.”

June 7, 2013


1 Committee on Carcinogenicity. Statement on the Relative Vulnerability of Children to Asbestos Compared to Adults. June 7, 2013.

2 Agenda of CoC meeting on May 9, 2013:
Evidence considered by the CoC can be accessed online at:

3 Howie R. Effect of Children's Age and Life Expectation on Mesothelioma Risk.

4 Press release. Government advisory committee on cancer conclude Children are more at risk from exposure to asbestos. June 6, 2013.



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