Do you really know how safe your children are in school?
When it comes to hazardous environmental issues like asbestos exposure, would you rather be uninformed or would you rather take extra steps to find out how to spare your child from these risks?
Continue reading to learn about the potential environmental hazards that your child may experience at school and how to prevent them from happening.
Asbestos in schools
Asbestos is a serious problem that can threaten the health of your children. And if your child’s school was built before the 1980s, chances are the building contains some form of asbestos.
Asbestos was heavily used during construction across Australia. During the 1970s, asbestos was a popular material due to its resilience to electricity, water, fire and other chemicals. The material is also a suitable insulator and pliable for steam engines, electrical generators, boilers, and turbines, and this contributed to its high usage.
Although asbestos is no longer used, it’s still a current threat for students and teachers throughout Australia. The risk of exposure to asbestos could persist in certain parts of your child’s school, and your children may have been exposed to this naturally occurring carcinogenic mineral without you or them knowing it.
Even tiny exposure to asbestos fibers can cause lung cancer, and cancer within the lining of the lung, called mesothelioma. Most victims have passed away within 18 months of being diagnosed with these cancers. However, symptoms usually don’t appear until around 40 years after the person first breathes in the dust.
The Committee on Carcinogenicity (CoC) reports that children are much more vulnerable than was initially thought, for many reasons, and it has been acknowledged that schools need to be viewed differently to other places of work.
- First, children’s lungs are continuing to develop, and this causes them to breathe more rapidly. The breathing factor alone makes your child an easy target for several lung diseases caused by asbestos.
- Second, kids are regularly exposed to areas where asbestos is usually found, like damaged wallboard, soil, and vinyl floor tiles.
- Third, symptoms of asbestos take time to appear, which means any related disease will go undiagnosed until it has reached an advanced stage.
Asbestos itself isn’t life-threatening until damaged or disturbed. After receiving this information, many Australian schools chose to manage the material instead of removing it. The problem is, they continuously fail to manage asbestos in their buildings. Shockingly, some schools were even unaware of the presence of asbestos. Too often, these circumstances resulted in the release of harmful asbestos fibers. The unnoticeable release of these fibers can pollute the air, ruining the “safe environment” for your children and creating anxiety for parents.
There are ways you can help protect your child from possibly being exposed to asbestos. But, keep in mind, the only way to guarantee that your child isn’t exposed (if they haven’t been already) is to have the asbestos removed from your child’s school completely. This is usually solved with an environmental management plan.
Below we’ll list seven tips that you can start applying immediately to help lower the risk of your child’s exposure to asbestos.
- Be sure to ask your child’s school if they have a detailed Asbestos Management Plan (AMP). The school must also clearly label school property that has been contaminated to prevent its disturbance.
- Confirm that the school is without a doubt asbestos-free and ensure they’ve been consistently following all rules and regulations regarding asbestos.
- If the school is slightly older or built before the 1980s, parents have the right to request a list of areas where asbestos is present and question the measures the school is taking for its removal.
- If asbestos has been confirmed or suspected to be present in the property, it is best not to touch it and encourage the school to undergo testing.
- Before any renovation or remodeling takes place, the school must first be inspected by a professional site environmental company to guarantee that it is safe to proceed.
- Although “do it yourself“ (DIY) asbestos removal is possible, it is not recommended as it can worsen the condition of the material and increase the risk of contamination.
- Proper steps must be taken by highly-trained, professional asbestos removal specialists to ensure the asbestos is safely removed or contained.
What about noise, dust, and vibration?
If a professional environmental company has approved construction or renovations to remove the asbestos from your child’s school, your next concerns should be your child’s exposure to noise, vibration, and dust damage during the length of time that the school is under construction.
Figures are hard to come by, but studies have estimated that a third or more of Australian schools have noise, vibration, and dust damage during the removal of asbestos from within the building.
These issues can lead to indoor air problems severe enough to provoke respiratory problems like asthma, permanent hearing loss, and physical and psychological effects in students and teachers.
A noise that is capable of damaging hearing, like the loud machinery used during construction, may cause other health effects such as increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, hypersensitivity to noise, fatigue, and stress.
Not only can this affect your child’s everyday lifestyle, but it will also interfere with their performance at school, slow down their reaction times and affect communication at school, which could lead to possible incidents or injuries. Once your precious sense of hearing is damaged or lost, it can never be regained.
So how loud is too loud? Hearing is at risk starting at 80 dB(A) for a working day of eight hours. If the noise level is higher (above 100 dB), like a hammer drill, unprotected exposure can lead to a risk of permanent hearing loss, and should be limited to a short duration.
To control the potential risk for your child, you must measure, identify, and define different sources of noise (e.g., tools, machinery, voice, etc.) and urge the school to participate in noise monitoring.
Vibration is a periodic motion through a solid medium (like a hammer drill). The motion’s size can be measured in terms of its displacement, speed, or increasing rate. Vibration can be a very serious concern, causing buildings to shake and rumbling sounds to be heard. Some familiar examples of vibration are construction activities such as blasting, pile driving, and heavy earth-moving equipment; trains; and buses on rough roads.
In Australia, exposure to vibration is one of the most neglected health hazards with a very low level of risk assessment. Evidence has shown that kids who are exposed to noise and vibration at the same time are more prone to hearing loss than children exposed to the same level of noise alone. Exposure to both noise and vibration is also understood to increase musculoskeletal problems. It is highly recommended that your child’s school practices vibration monitoring while construction is underway.
Schools must also properly manage all known risks to students and staff associated with dust exposure.
There are various types of dust formed from textiles, ceramic art materials, synthetic fibers (e.g., fiberglass) metal, and wood. Dust is usually created by mechanical processes such as sanding, grinding and sawing. Control measures must guarantee dust levels in the air do not exceed national exposure limits/standards based on dust condition monitoring.
The New York State Health Department discovered a connection between hospitalizations for asthma and building maintenance at public schools. The dust condition of walls, windows, roofs, and boilers were all related to the health of children at the school. Researchers discovered that children are at higher risk of health problems related to dust because their bodies are still developing and they breathe in more air, pound for pound, than adults.
Does your school have an environmental management plan?
A School Environment Management Plan (SEMP) is a form that sets out the school community’s plan regarding environmental management and education. It is used as an agreement to work together across the whole school.
Putting a SEMP in place should be the school’s first step to preventing asbestos, noise, dust and vibration damage. A SEMP plan can help schools, parents, and children in 4 different ways.
- It’s a valuable learning experience for students on how to develop and implement environmental sustainability.
- It provides a structured approach to managing the school’s utilities and resources. This can help speed up finding a solution to issues like asbestos.
- It creates a plan for achieving environmental monitoring sustainability, which helps prevent future problems such as noise, dust, vibration, and asbestos.
- It will strengthen the opportunity for the school to receive a grant that will provide extra funding to help improve the school’s environmental conditions.
The second step should be for the school to employ a reputable and professional site environmental company that specializes in asbestos removal, detection, and environmental services, including dust, noise, and vibration monitoring.