Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Is Britain Facing A Ticking Time Bomb For Asbestos Related Diseases?

Though Mesothelioma is a form of cancer largely associated with occupational exposure to asbestos through working in heavy industry or the building trade, serious questions are now being raised concerning the amount of asbestos found in Britain's schools. Most of the UK's 24,000 schools are said to have significant amounts of asbestos, clearly posing an enormous potential health hazard to school children.

Symptoms of mesothelioma include shortness of breath due to fluid between the lung and the chest wall or chest wall pain. Other symptoms include weight loss. Diagnosis is normally made with chest Xrays and CT scans, confirmation made by biopsies and microscopic examination. The disease carries a poor prognosis with life expectancy typically limited to months rather than years. Survival rates after diagnosis are depressing: in the range of 6 to 18-months.

One of the most disturbing aspects of recent debate concerning the contraction of Mesothelioma arises from the fact that its gestation period is typically 30 to 40 years. Most mesothelioma sufferers have no recollection of being exposed to asbestos potentially coming into contact with this lethal substance in any number of locations, whether it's in the form of roofing, insulation or pipe lagging.

Not only is it school children who may end up suffering the terrible long term consequences of exposure to asbestos but asbestos in offices, schools and residential building programmes up to the late Sixties may also contribute to the growing numbers of victims. Expert predictions indicate that over the next ten years, up to 90,000 people may die from the cancer.

Exposure to asbestos fibres has been recognised as an occupational health hazard since the early 1900s and throughout the second half of the twentieth century the government in the UK was presented with a number of reports from bodies such as The Medical Inspectorate of Factories and leading British epidemiologist Dr Richard Doll highlighting the potential dangers.

Despite these reports and even their own research findings from as early as 1931, successive governments and official bodies have pretty much ignored the problem especially when it came to schools. In 1976 the Department of Education eventually issued a guideline indicating concern only with frayed asbestos and suggesting that is was sealed when possible, as opposed to removing potentially lethal asbestos from schools. In 1986 they issued a further guideline indicating that only in the case of damage should it be removed with management keeping the state of asbestos in their buildings under review.

Other countries appear to take a far more serious view when it comes to assessing the potential health hazards of asbestos. In the mid 1980's government in the USA funded an asbestos audit in schools that led to its subsequent removal. In Eire schools were surveyed for asbestos in 2000. The government there is committed to complete eradication.

Ironically as of 1993 all traces of asbestos have been sought out and removed from the Palace of Westminster and in 1994, the Department of the Environment found asbestos in its headquarters removing it at a cost of £1million.

Until a similarly thorough and consistent policy is adopted across the UK, especially in regard to schools this country could be sitting on a tragic and largely avoidable time bomb of mesothelioma sufferers.

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