While many people view asbestos as an outdated building material, the substance is still found in a range of different buildings throughout Australia. Perth and surrounding towns in Western Australia have an unusually large amount of asbestos-built buildings. The public’s ignorance of the significant presence of asbestos can prove dangerous when the substance is unsettled.
In recent years, there has been an increased focus on the amount of asbestos present in West Australian schools. But recent reports suggest that there are up to 600 current WA schools that have large quantities of asbestos present in their infrastructure.
It’s vital to understand the potential harm this substance can bring to small children. News and studies suggest that the WA Government isn’t proactive enough to fight the issue.
Reports from January of 2019 indicate that the West Australian government may need more resources to assist in asbestos removal. There seems to be no clear plan to resolve the issue, with much of the focus remaining on containing the problem and targeting high-risk areas.
Why Do So Many WA Schools Have a High Asbestos Risk?
It may seem crazy that 600 West Australian schools have asbestos in their building materials, but it’s part of a more significant problem in Australian infrastructure. The reality is that Australia was previously one of the largest users of asbestos building products. This dangerous habit was only curtailed in the 1980s.
Because many of WA’s schools were built before the change in building standards, a large number of the structures still contain significant amounts of asbestos. Schools and other buildings haven’t removed the asbestos because it is thought to be safe if it is properly sealed and undisturbed.
Still, this can create problems when proper checks are not enforced or if damage occurs to a building’s structure.
This means that unnoticed asbestos exposure may occur if the building’s occupants are not aware of the potential risk of damaged or unsealed building materials.
While current requirements suggest that all schools are checked every three years, this may not resolve acute issues. This is particularly alarming to many WA parents who find the idea of their children being exposed to asbestos extremely frightening.
Which Schools Have the Worst Ranking?
Authorities have released some figures detailing the number of schools that are at higher risk than others. Many of the 600 buildings on this list are thought to pose little threat to the students that attend the schools, but there is still a large number that are classified as high-risk.
The government ranks schools on a scale of one to nine. Unlike most instances, this rating system isn’t exactly linear. It factors in both the condition of the material and the probability of disturbance. Regardless, ratings one, two and three are considered the most at-risk ratings available.
Unfortunately, there were over 70 schools in WA that rated at three. This number indicates that over 70 schools had unsealed or damaged coating with a medium probability of disturbance. This news is still a significant issue, especially considering the unsealed nature of the asbestos.
Even worse than these schools, there were 17 schools with a risk rating of two, and one school with a risk rating of one. That said, the government has already carried out work on the level one school to reduce asbestos dangers.
What Are the Schools Doing?
Unlike Victoria, which has committed itself to eliminate all asbestos by 2020 via a $200m budget, the WA government has not provided ample funding for asbestos removal in Perth and surrounding regions. This means that schools are currently stuck with the three-year cycle of inspections. However, some schools do receive more frequent checks if they’re thought to be at-risk.
At present, the West Australian government only has a $6m budget to deal with the problem, which ranks at the lower end of a state-by-state analysis. For this reason, the West Australian school environmental management program seems only to be able to manage the problem instead of eliminating it.
In short, school asbestos removal happens on a case-by-case basis.
Why Asbestos is So Dangerous
Asbestos can pose an incredible risk for those who are exposed to the chemical. It has been known as one of the most lethal building materials in modern history for a reason.
The asbestos risk is typically associated with severe lung disease that can result in an extremely unpleasant death. Asbestos is a group of six minerals that are naturally found as groups of fibre.
As these fibres accumulate in the human lung, they progress to create severe scarring and inflammation that can result in a wide variety of health problems.
Asbestos-related diseases have been the focal point of many massive American lawsuits. These suits allege that exposure to asbestos put workers, builders and others exposed to asbestos at undue risk of severe health conditions and death.
Scarring and inflammation can result in certain cancers. Mesothelioma is a major form of cancer that is often associated with asbestos. In fact, evidence suggests that this is the primary form of cancer related to asbestos.
That said, not all victims suffer from mesothelioma. Many people develop asbestosis, which is an inflammatory disease that causes lung damage, chronic cough and a host of other severe health conditions.
In many cases, the health effects of asbestos are not realised until quite a few decades after the initial exposure occurs. This is partly the reason that asbestos continued to be a popular building material for decades in the 20th century.
Don’t Risk Unqualified Removal
Asbestos removal is hazardous because of the tiny nature of the fibres. Not only does it put the workers at risk, but unsettling asbestos may also put other people in the area in harm’s way.
For this reason, it’s essential to use qualified asbestos removal teams to complete the job. These trained professionals understand how to contain and prevent asbestos risk during the removal process.
The West Australian Government and its schools only use trained asbestos removal professionals to complete these complex and dangerous jobs. We can only hope that local authorities increase the budget to contain this continuing asbestos crisis in our school system.