Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral fibre that was popular in building and construction due to its strength, flexibility, wide usage, lightweight, affordability and waterproof nature. However once asbestos is worn or broken, fibres can be released into the air. These fibres can be inhaled causing chronic respiratory issues like lung cancer and in some cases these lead to a premature death. So when dealing with asbestos great care needs to be taken to ensure the safety of all those involved and the health of the general public. Children can be especially vulnerable to asbestos related illness as their lungs are still developing, through asbestos related diseases may take decades to fully develop and be diagnosed.
There are 6 different types of asbestos tremolite asbestos, actinolite asbestos, anthophyllite asbestos, chrysotile asbestos, amosite asbestos and crocidolite asbestos. These types can then be sorted into friable and non-friable.
- Friable Asbestos can easily be turned to dust causing it to become airborne and be inhaled easily
- Non-Friable Asbestos is more solid and can only become airborne if broken or damaged
The most dangerous of these types is Friable Crocidolite Asbestos, Crocidolite when broken forms brittle, straight, needle like clusters that can easily be inhaled in large quantities and cause massive scarring in the lungs.
Is there Asbestos in my Child’s School?
The Australian government has put into place multiple laws and guidelines regarding asbestos in schools such as the AHERA or Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act which requires schools to hire professionals, Asbestos Testing , to inspect the whole school grounds for asbestos then have a re-inspection every 3 years, the information from these reports must be updated,maintained and available for the use of parents, teachers, and other faculty members. Licensed professionals are the only ones eligible to perform these inspections. Another way asbestos has been stopped from entering schools is the Asbestos Import Ban and the Code of Practice which gives a comprehensive list of directives on the compliance with requirements of the Work Health and Safety laws. So the best way to know if there is asbestos in your child’s school is to request to view the schools AHERA form, it is also important to remember that some asbestos in schools is ‘low risk and some asbestos is ‘high risk’ some schools may have asbestos in them but have had the asbestos enclosed or encapsulated, Asbestos Removal , to protect their staff and pupils.
Some recent incidents of asbestos exposure in Australia includes Northern Territory Schools finding Asbestos in mineral kits sold across Australia, this incident led to over 20 Northern Territory schools eliminating these mineral kits in order to avoid exposure to the students who would have been exposed to the kits.
Removing the Problem
Many states have started to remove asbestos from their schools, Victoria removed all high risk asbestos from their schools in early 2016 and plan to remove all of the low risk asbestos from their schools by 2020. This will ensure that each student and staff member has a safe teaching and learning environment without the risk of developing lung related illness later in life. Overall Victoria has invested 155 million to remove all asbestos from their schools and are continuing on track for their goal of asbestos free schooling by 2020.
Asbestos can be safe in schools when correctly maintained but ultimately should be fully identified, removed and replaced with a safer material to ensure the long term safety of all students and teachers. Australia is implementing important laws and regulations regarding Asbestos in schools, some states, such as Victoria, are doing competent work towards asbestos free schools however but more could be done country wide to ensure that asbestos in schools is left in the past.