Where can you find asbestos in buildings, what are the risks, and what can you do about it?
The risks of asbestos exposure from students and staff in old schools and public buildings is a real one as many school buildings are known to contain these toxic substances. Old vinyl floor coverings containing asbestos should be removed from buildings and from schools due to the health dangers.
In my own professional experience in my town, and in other towns across the world Asbestos can be found in many old buildings, mostly in roofs, kitchens, walls and floor coverings.
Exposure to asbestos can cause serious health problems, and is associated with mesothelioma and asbestosis. These respiratory diseases are caused by inhaling asbestos fibres. The biggest risks come from those exposed the longest amount of time to the substance. 75% of those diagnosed with mesothelioma die within 1 year. To reduce the risks it is most important to reduce exposure, and have exposed asbestos removed immediately.
Some important tips we have learnt over the years are firstly:
If you have worked in the building industry you should see a doctor regularly for health checks and mention you may have been exposed to asbestos. Secondly, if you suffer from any of the symptoms such as constant coughing, shortness of breath, or blood in your mucus, contact a doctor immediately.
Note: Removing asbestos from your home is one of the best home improvement tips in this year. Please do it ASAP if haven’t done before.
Medical symptoms may not be asbestos related, but the sooner you consult a doctor, the more chance you have of identifying the illness. Even if not ill, if you have any suspicion your building or property contains fibrous suspect material you should contact a licenced professional. What should you look for to identify the hazard? If the building was constructed any time in the 1940’s to 1980’s there is a likelihood it may contain fire retardant dust containing asbestos.
What can you do to identify the risks in your local buildings or property?
Some cities have investigated, including setting up features such as an official Schools Asbestos Register, a report to see which schools are effected by Asbestos. This can be helpful to parents and students, and when applied in Sydney, Parramatta, Bondi and Bankstown it was successfully used to show some state schools still had the floor coverings containing the toxic building material asbestos.
Old vinyl floors are a feature of many local schools. Originally used for their fire proofing qualities for several decades in the building industry, only now is a lot of asbestos being discovered in buildings during demolition, and can have very great health dangers with exposure, especially during removal.
A common attitude shared is that the floor coverings are a remnant of the past, and once the flooring is damaged, it is increasing the risk of asbestos being released.
Current scientific and medical evidence has shown it is safe to be in a building that contains asbestos, so long as it is not damaged or disturbed. That is a big risk if you ask me. General building degradation, lack of reporting and documentation of actual exposure, earthquakes, accidents, purposeful destruction could all cause the building to breach the safe levels according to your local state building code, such as the one we follow in Sydney and New South Wales.
There are no excuses for asbestos backed flooring to still be present in our school buildings.
A register made public by your local state government can be used to list confirmed and presumed cases of asbestos in schools. Personally I think it is a great idea, and you may wish to lobby your council for the same. We now have rigorous processes in place to manage asbestos in our schools and these registers will help inform parents, staff and the public about what is being done in their local area.
Too often the response of some people had been to simply tape over ripped floor coverings.
A permanent fix is need to treat this problem of the removal and safe replacement of the floor covering. Now that asbestos roofs have finally started to be replaced, buildings and those conduction demolition need to make a concerted effort to eliminate asbestos backed vinyl floor covering, an issue that does not get enough attention, but poses a real health risk.
It is important that we complete the job of removing and replacing all floor coverings containing asbestos in Sydney and the rest of the country, and in other countries, to make our buildings, schools and public spaces safe for children and all residents.
The safety of children and their teachers is paramount, so this job must be a priority.
If your city does not have a fee state schools asbestos register available online from the government we suggest all Australians (and those abroad) to lobby their local representative to put such measures in place.