An astonishing number of sites and buildings in Worcestershire contain asbestos, according to recent news reports. A total of 699 council buildings are on the register for ‘known asbestos’ including schools, libraries and offices owned or run by Worcestershire council – even smallholdings and caravan sites are included.
This amounts to nearly half of their total assets in the county, a fact that has surprised and worried many local residents. Although some say that blanket removal of the substance is the more hazardous option, Councillor Peter McDonald, wants action to be taken by the council as a priority.
Is ‘encasement’ the better option?
It is commonly argued by those in authority that encasing asbestos to prevent disintegration is the safest method of dealing with the problem. It is felt that removal would pose too great a risk to the health and safety, not only of workers undertaking the task, but also of those in the surrounding area.
Opposers of this view sometimes suggest that it’s the financial cost that’s being considered, rather than health and safety? Current knowledge about asbestos and its dangers means that removal can be carried out using strict health and safety guidelines, by licensed contractors, unlike the era when asbestos was widely used.
The 1960s and 1970s saw a prolific use of the substance in the construction industry in particular. Many people exposed to asbestos dust and fibres don’t experience the terrible after-effects until several decades later, and as Councillor McDonald said,
“Asbestos is not a problem of the past, it’s a problem of the present.”
Where asbestos might be found in these buildings
The council buildings identified as containing asbestos include schools and libraries, as well as office blocks. Asbestos was commonly used for its insulating and fire-retardant properties, and was very often used to lag pipes.
It can also be found in ceiling tiles, lino flooring, central heating systems and partition walling. In fact, this is thought to have been a specific problem in schools. Teachers have used drawing pins to fix children’s artwork to walls that contain asbestos, releasing deadly dust and fibres into the air on a consistent basis.
It is this constant exposure that becomes such a health issue, and because of the age of some asbestos-containing materials it doesn’t take much disturbance to cause damage, particularly in a school where children are running around.
Various asbestos-related diseases are suffered by those with historic exposure to the substance. Mesothelioma is an incurable form of cancer that aggressively attacks the membrane of the lungs, with the prognosis for victims often being a year at the most.
Other diseases include asbestosis and non-malignant pleural disease. Although not generally fatal, they can be a precursor to mesothelioma and present a worrying outlook for victims. Reduced lung capacity on an ongoing basis means that sufferers lose much of their quality of life, as the asbestos fibres in their respiratory systems take hold and cause a severe decline in health.