Unmasking the Silent Killer: Why Children are at Greater Risk from Exposure to Asbestos

DSCF0017

Are our children in danger? You might be surprised to learn that a silent killer, asbestos, is lurking in the very place we consider safe – our schools. While asbestos exposure is dangerous for everyone, a shocking reality is that children are at greater risk from exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos in UK Schools: A Threat Lurking in the Shadows

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring fibres known for their durability and resistance to heat, electricity and corrosion. Historically, these properties made asbestos an attractive material for use in construction. However, when these fibres are released into the air and breathed in, they can lead to deadly diseases like mesothelioma, a form of cancer that can develop even from exposure to a small concentration of asbestos fibres.

It’s a shocking fact that more than 75% of schools in England have buildings containing asbestos-containing materials. Teachers, school workers, and most importantly, our children, may be at risk of exposure to this hazardous substance every day​1​.

Why Children are at Greater Risk from Exposure to Asbestos

You may wonder why children are at greater risk from exposure to asbestos. The reason is twofold. First, children will live longer after exposure, giving the disease more time to develop. For a given dose of asbestos, the lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma is about 3.5 times greater for a child first exposed at age 5 compared to an adult first exposed at age 25, and about 5 times greater when compared to an adult first exposed at age 30.

Second, there is a potential vulnerability due to their physical immaturity. However, this aspect requires further research for a definitive conclusion.

The UK’s Asbestos Crisis: A Call for Urgent Action

The UK’s asbestos crisis requires urgent action. The UK’s regulatory regime has been criticised for permitting asbestos exposure levels far higher than other countries. A child in the UK can legally be exposed to ten times the amount of asbestos than they would be in countries such as Germany​​.

The UK has imported more asbestos per capita than any other country and has the highest rates of asbestos-related deaths in Europe​. A national health crisis awaits us and our children if we do not act now​.

We need improved standards and a central register of all asbestos in public buildings across the UK. The government must commission a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of asbestos removal​​.

The Future of Asbestos Management in UK Schools

The UK government has pledged a significant investment in managing asbestos in schools. However, this approach has been met with criticism. UK regulations state that asbestos should be maintained in situ, provided it is in a “good condition and well protected either by its position or physical protection”. This approach has been criticised for putting people at risk​.

The UK government has committed to a strategy for managing asbestos in schools. However, there is some resistance to the idea of total asbestos removal, with the Department for Education, stating that it is usually safer to manage asbestos in good condition than to remove it.

Teenage Students In Uniform Sitting Examination In School Hall

Who is at Higher Risk of Asbestos Exposure?

Asbestos exposure is not limited to a specific group; anyone can be at risk, depending on the environment and their activities. However, certain individuals may face a higher risk due to their work or surroundings. People who have worked in industries such as construction, shipbuilding, and manufacturing, where asbestos was widely used, are often at a higher risk.

Yet, a surprising demographic that is increasingly being affected is school teachers and children. Women in their late forties to mid-sixties who have worked in schools have shown a statistically significant risk, with five times more deaths from mesothelioma among teachers than expected in populations not exposed to the substance​​.

How are Children Exposed to Asbestos?

Children are often exposed to asbestos in an environment where we expect them to be safest – their schools. Asbestos-containing materials can be found in a wide variety of locations in school buildings. These can include pipe and boiler insulation, ceiling tiles, floor tiles, and sprayed-on fireproofing or insulation.

When these materials become damaged or disturbed, for example during maintenance work or even simply due to ageing, asbestos fibres can be released into the air. A child can inhale these fibres while simply going about their daily activities at school. This exposure is made more severe by the fact that the UK’s regulations allow for higher levels of asbestos exposure than other countries. For instance, the permissible levels of airborne asbestos in the UK can expose a child to 100,000 fibres per day, compared with 10,000 fibres in Germany​​.

The dangers of asbestos exposure become even more concerning when considering the elevated risk it presents to younger people. The correlation between age at first exposure and risk level is due to the long latency period of asbestos-related diseases, which can range from 20 to 50 years or more.

This means that children exposed to asbestos are at a greater risk because they have a longer life expectancy, providing more time for the disease to develop. For a given dose of asbestos, the lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma is predicted to be about 3.5 times greater for a child first exposed to asbestos at age 5 compared to an adult first exposed at age 25, and about 5 times greater when compared to an adult first exposed at age 30.

The Silent Impact of Asbestos on the UK Population

Asbestos exposure is a major public health issue in the UK. According to figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2017 there were 2,523 deaths from mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the organs caused almost exclusively by the inhalation of asbestos fibres. It’s estimated that a similar number of people die from asbestos-related lung cancers each year​​.

The UK imported more asbestos per capita than any other country and has the highest rates of asbestos-related deaths in Europe. Many of these deaths are from low-level, chronic exposure to asbestos, debunking the assumption that the harm caused by asbestos is a historical issue relating to traditionally hazardous occupations and industries​​.

The Urgent Call for Change

Change is needed. The UK’s asbestos regulations are severely lacking, and the health and safety of our children are at stake. The regulatory regime has been criticised for allowing schoolchildren to inhale levels of airborne asbestos much higher than what is accepted in other countries

Unions have criticised the UK regulations, which state that asbestos should be maintained in situ rather than removed, provided it is in a

“good condition and well protected either by its position or physical protection”​​.

This approach is putting people, especially our children, at risk.

It’s crucial that we recognise and respond to the true extent of the dangers posed by asbestos. A

“national health crisis awaits us and our children if we do not act now”​​.

The call for action includes the creation of a central register of all asbestos in public buildings across the UK, identifying its precise location, type, and condition, and commissioning a cost-benefit analysis of the removal of all asbestos from these buildings​​.

Our Opinion

The harmful effects of asbestos exposure, particularly in children, are a ticking time bomb. The danger is silent and invisible, yet it threatens to cause irreversible damage. With the highest rates of asbestos-related deaths in Europe, the UK needs to reassess its approach to managing asbestos exposure, particularly in schools.

While the government has acknowledged the problem and promised reviews and changes, more urgent and comprehensive action is needed to protect the most vulnerable among us – our children. As educators, parents, and citizens, we must advocate for stricter regulations, increased transparency, and comprehensive asbestos management in all schools across the UK.

Our children deserve a safe learning environment, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that they get it. Let’s act now to protect our children and ensure a safer future for them.

Call to Action: Secure a Safer Future with Acorn Analytical Services

The challenge of asbestos management is complex, but you don’t have to face it alone. Acorn Analytical Services is here to guide you every step of the way.

We offer comprehensive asbestos management services, including asbestos surveying, asbestos air testing, and asbestos consultancy. Our experts have decades of experience and are committed to ensuring the safety of your building occupants, especially the most vulnerable among us – our children.

Don’t wait for the silent threat of asbestos to become a loud disaster. If you’re worried about asbestos exposure in your school or any other building, get in touch with us today.

At Acorn Analytical Services, we believe that everyone deserves a safe environment. Let’s work together to protect our children from the risk of asbestos exposure and ensure a safer future for them.

Contact us now, and take the first step towards a safer managed asbestos.

 

Neil Munro

I work in a dual role at Acorn Analytical Services focused primarily on growing and leading the business from our Northampton office base. My focus is on overseeing all sales, marketing and financial activities from Northampton. I assist clients with high-level asbestos management strategies and training. Together with Ian Stone I host our weekly podcast – Asbestos Knowledge Empire and I'm Co-author of Asbestos The Dark Arts and Fear and Loathing of Health and Safety.

Need Help? Request a Call Back

Request a call back from one of our expert Asbestos Consultants who will help you identify what you need

More Asbestos Articles

Asbestos awareness: Education is key

Asbestos awareness: ‘Educating the public is key’

WHEN it comes to raising awareness of the dangers of asbestos, education and training are absolutely key. With so much advice out there, it can be difficult to know where to turn for information you can trust and training which is tailored to suit your individual needs. To mark national Day of Education, the team … Read more

Asbestos is a big problem on the high street

Asbestos on the high street continues to dominate the headlines

The headlines have once again been dominated this week by stories of high street premises which have been affected by asbestos. In November, Acorn Analytical Services shone a spotlight on the growing epidemic in towns and cities across the UK and urged companies and shop owners to put the safety of their staff and customers … Read more

Reducing asbestos in schools should be a clear priority

‘Reducing asbestos in schools should be our first priority’

FOR many years the team at Acorn Analytical Services has been calling for full asbestos risk assessments to be carried out in schools right across the UK. With many schools having been built during the post-war period when the use of asbestos was at its highest, we fear that many school buildings still contain the … Read more

Asbestos: Rates of mesothelioma continue to soar in women

Asbestos: Number of women affected by mesothelioma continues to soar

MORE women than ever are being affected by exposure to asbestos according to statistics published by Cancer Research UK. Between 2016 and 2018 rates of mesothelioma – the cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibres -soared by 93% in women. Among those affected is 78-year-old Susan Ellis who recently shared her story with the Daily … Read more

Dan Crask and David Kelsey represent asbestos management consultancy, Acorn, at the NBCAs

Acorn Analytical Services – leading the way in the fight against asbestos epidemic

IT has been a busy year for the team at Acorn Analytical Services as we continue to work with new clients, grow our team and cement our place as one of the leading asbestos management companies in the UK. As we approach the end of the year, we thought we would take a moment to … Read more

Education is key to understanding asbestos

Understanding asbestos: Why educating your team is key

THE devastating effects of asbestos have been highlighted this week after a pensioner from Northamptonshire won compensation from a former employer after developing an asbestos-related illness. Patrick Collier, a former painter and decorator, received compensation in the Royal Courts of Justice after developing pleural thickening. His illness meant that he had to give up work … Read more

Remembering those who have died from asbestos exposure at work

One death from exposure to asbestos is one too many – it’s time for change

EACH year on December 12, the team at Acorn Analytical Services takes a moment to remember the lives lost in workplaces up and down the UK, either through injury or exposure to asbestos. By pausing to remember those who have died from workplace accidents, or from diseases such as lung cancer or mesothelioma, National Workplace … Read more

The UK is sitting on an asbestos timebomb

Asbestos Knowledge Empire: ‘UK is sitting on an asbestos timebomb’

RAISING awareness of the hidden dangers of asbestos is a key part of the work we do at Acorn Analytical Services. After more than 20 years in the asbestos industry, and having met people who have been directly affected by mesothelioma – the cancer caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos – it is something I … Read more

England star Stuart Pearce has helped to raise awareness of mesothelioma

Mesothelioma: How an England footballer is bringing home the dangers of this hidden killer

THIS afternoon, England’s Three Lions made a winning start to their World Cup campaign beating Iran in their first match in Qatar. But one footballing legend fears he could be in danger of developing mesothelioma after starting his career as an electrician in the 1980s. While former England legend Stuart Pearce is now undoubtedly best … Read more

Viviana, one of the newest members of Acorn's team

Team talk: Meet Viviana one of the talented new recruits at Acorn Analytical Services

WITH the UK in the grip of an asbestos epidemic, recruiting talented, experienced staff to join the award-winning team of experts at Acorn Analytical Services has never been more important. Despite being banned in new buildings more than 20 years ago, asbestos remains a huge problem for many businesses and, as a result, demand for … Read more