It’s recently been extensively covered on the news about how many buildings are now known to contain asbestos. For example, in Liverpool several school buildings are known to have this hidden killer hiding in the structure of their facilities.
Rather than scaremongering, it’s important to start by pointing out that asbestos in walls or roofing isn’t dangerous in itself, in fact it can be perfectly safe. The problems come when, over time, those materials begin to wear down as they reach the end of their natural life, or become damaged.
What this means, is that the constituent parts of the building start to separate, allowing the asbestos to loosen and risk leaking into the air. Asbestos particles are tiny, much too small to see, yet are one of the most hazardous things to inhale, as they can easily become lodged in the lungs, and quietly irritate deep inside the chest until one day they cause very serious illnesses.
The big issue facing councils is how to deal with the huge number of buildings that contain asbestos, schools included. It’s all very well telling them to get an expert asbestos company in to dispose of the problem, but the cost to do that across an entire city, let alone an entire country, is astronomical.
Instead, the problem is being monitored and treated on a just in time basis in many areas. That means that surfaces known to contain asbestos are logged and observed, and if there’s reason to believe that a risk is imminent, the problem is dealt with.
The logical behind this approach is easier to see if we still use the schools example. Up until a decade ago, the idea was that a huge rebuilding programme was happening across the country called ‘Building Schools For The Future’, and private companies were bidding to gain the contracts for the building work. Of course, demolition of existing structures was part of that initiative, so the thinking was that this would solve many of the asbestos problems in the process.
However, with the huge slowdown around that time, the project effectively got shelved under Michael Gove’s tenure in the education hot seat (although politicians tend to suggest otherwise), and so the asbestos threat lives on.
That’s not to say that we’re sending children into very dangerous buildings, but it does leave dealing with what will inevitably one day need sorting out.
As we said, it’s not schools specifically that have this problem – asbestos was widely used until a few decades ago, and wasn’t banned in its entirety until the late 1990s.
Awareness is a big part of the current campaign to slowly chip away at getting the problem solved once and for all, as people understanding what the threat is, and when to report concerns help authorities to plan and stay aware of pressing work to be carried out.