Exposure to asbestos puts children at greater risk
A scientific advisory committee to the Government has concluded that children are more vulnerable to asbestos exposure than adults.
Pressure groups say the Government must act on the committee’s findings and carry out an independent review of its policies on asbestos in schools.
The Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (CoC) was asked for advice on the relative vulnerability of children to asbestos to inform discussions of the Department for Education’s Asbestos in Schools Steering Group.
There are 24,372 schools in England and it is estimated that more than 75 per cent of these schools have some buildings that contain asbestos-containing products (ACPs). This estate present an increased potential of harm to occupants.
The CoC looked at two aspects: firstly, whether children are more vulnerable because they will live longer for mesothelioma to develop; and, secondly, whether they are more vulnerable because of their physical immaturity.
On the first aspect, the Committee reached unanimous agreement that children are more at risk. Indeed, it is estimated that the lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma for a five-year-old child is about five times greater than an adult aged 30.
On the second matter, the Committee was unable to reach a conclusion on account of insufficient scientific research having been carried out.
The Department for Education and the HSE have previously vowed to conduct an internal review of their own policies on asbestos in schools following receipt of the CoC’s findings, but safety campaigners want an independent review.
Chair of the Asbestos in Schools (AiS) group Annette Brooke OBE MP said: “In light of the publication of this report, I call on the Government to urgently review their policies on asbestos in schools. The DfE 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 materials.”
Chair of the Joint Union Asbestos Committee Julie Winn commented: “Children cannot control their exposure and they do not assume the risk voluntarily. Any policy approach that adopts anything other than a precautionary approach is socially and morally unacceptable. Where there is uncertainty, policy should err on the side of health and safety and a precautionary approach should be taken. An independent review of government policy is long overdue.”
Commenting following the Committee’s findings, a Department for Education spokesperson told SHP: “We welcome the Committee on Carcinogenicity’s report on the effect exposure to asbestos can have on children, and have committed to consider the findings when reviewing our policy on asbestos management.€ﾨ€ﾨ”Schools must already comply with the strict legal duties on asbestos. We have also published guidance on the issue and work closely with the HSE in ensuring asbestos is managed properly in all schools.”
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