Children at Risk
Problems caused by asbestos products in schools have been reported in several countries during recent weeks. A cursory web search on July 23, 2007 uncovered news stories on this subject from Asia, Australia and North America, all of which reveal that the presence of asbestos in schools is not only hazardous but also short-sighted. In Andhra Pradesh, India classes continue in a primary school in Vijayangar Colony which has been flooded due to cracked asbestos roofing; the damaged covering has exacerbated the effects of the monsoons on the 50 year old building in Sarva Siksha Abhiyan.1 In Johor Baru, Malaysia strong winds ripped asbestos roofing off two adjoining schools during a heavy downpour on July 22, 2007. The assistant principal reported: There were pieces of blue asbestos everywhere, fallen trees, damaged cars and also debris. A local man confirmed that pieces of blue asbestos had been blown about as the roof was torn open.2 On May 24, 2007, UNICEF published an update on the Tsunami-Earthquake Emergency Programme which highlighted concerns about asbestos:
UNICEF is currently producing communcation materials for children and parents on the dangers of asbestos, a WHO consultant is arriving June 5 to formulate a broad approach to the issue 3
To minimize the health risks posed by asbestos contained within Australian and American schools, projects are being commissioned to identify and manage contaminated material. The New South Wales Education Department has admitted that it does not know how many of the more than 7,000 school buildings in the greater Sydney area contain asbestos. On July 20, 2007, a comprehensive asbestos inspection program was launched to identify asbestos building materials in classrooms; the initiative was welcomed by the Teachers Federation.4 In Dover, New Hampshire the removal of asbestos flooring from a Somersworth high school delayed refurbishment work due to the unexpected presence of extra layers of contaminated material;5 the extra asbestos is likely to force total costs to exceed the original budget of $55,000.
And where on earth is there a good news story about asbestos in schools? In South Africa! On July 23, 2007, a state of the art primary school was opened which replaced a structure built in 1960 in Alexandra, Gauteng Province. The old building, which was intended as a temporary solution, was constructed of asbestos sheets. The demolition of the asbestos-ridden schools is part of the provincial government's plans to upgrade basic living and civic conditions. Planning is underway to demolish all Gauteng asbestos-tainted schools as they pose a health hazard said Nomvula Mokonyane, Member of the Gauteng Executive Council, at the official opening of the Ekukhanyisweni Primary School.6
July 25, 2007