UK Asbestos Exposure
by Connor Burke
According to a new report by thinktank ResPublica, the regulation of asbestos in Britain is so inadequate that a child could be exposed to up to 10 times as much of the deadly material as they would in many other European countries.
The report is heavily critical of the current regulatory regime, directly comparing the levels allowed in the UK to those in Germany:
“A child inhales between five and 10 cubic metres of air per day, meaning the permitted levels of airborne asbestos in the UK can expose a child to 100,000 fibres per day, compared with 10,000 fibres in Germany.”
Citing the technology used to measure airborne asbestos fibres as being far less accurate than that used in other countries, the thinktank is encouraging the UK to match the high standards set by Germany, France, Netherlands and France.
There is an estimated 6m tonnes of potentially toxic asbestos found across 1.5m buildings in the UK; it is believed this includes 80% of all schools and 94% of NHS trusts.
Based on ONS figures, since 2001 at least 305 members of teaching and education staff have died due to mesothelioma. According to a 2018 study, there were five times more deaths from mesothelioma among teachers and three times more among nurses than expected in populations not exposed to the substance.
The director of ResPublica said these deaths were “a tragic indictment of the current system of containment and control.”
On the topic of current regulations he added, “The inability of our current health and safety regime to recognise and respond to the true extent of the dangers posed is even more worrying,” ending with a warning that a “national health crisis awaits us and our children if we do not act now.”
A spokesperson for the HSE responded to these claims by saying “There is only a significant risk if any asbestos already within the building fabric is disturbed”, and defended the current legal requirements protecting against asbestos in Britain’s buildings “Great Britain led the way in 2002 to reduce these risks, when it introduced a new duty on those responsible for non-domestic buildings to locate and manage asbestos materials where it is decided it can be safely left in situ rather than removed.”
The Guardian – https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/nov/25/uk-children-exposed-to-more-asbestos-than-other-countries-report
ResPublica – https://www.airtightonasbestos.uk/research
HSE – http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/mesothelioma/mesothelioma-mortality-by-occupation.pdf
January 23, 2020
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