People usually associate diseases related to asbestos exposure with older patients. These individuals may have come in contact with the mineral because of their jobs, or because they lived in a home in which asbestos-containing products were degraded.
However, there’s some research that says it’s possible they were exposed to asbestos as schoolchildren in the 1960s or 1970s. This research prompted the U.K. government’s Committee on Carcinogenicity, or COC, to conclude that children are more vulnerable to the effects of asbestos exposure than adults. This is relevant today because some older school buildings that are still used, both in the U.K. and the U.S., may contain products tainted with asbestos.
Why are children more vulnerable to asbestos?
One question that the COC has been trying to answer for years is why asbestos is so much more dangerous for children than it is for adults. Scientists concluded that age made the difference. You see, most asbestos-related diseases, such as malignant pleural mesothelioma, take years to develop. Children have a greater proportion of their life spans still ahead of them compared to adults, meaning that mesothelioma has more time to take hold in their younger respiratory systems.
Ultimately, a 5-year-old child is 5.3 times more likely than a 30-year-old to develop mesothelioma by the age of 80. The COC released these results in a report on June 7, 2013.
Based on the evidence in front of them, the researchers couldn’t make any conclusions as to whether children were vulnerable because of how immature their bodies are. However, experts from the Children’s Environmental Health Network in Washington, D.C., pointed out that developing children breathe more rapidly and take in more air than adults. Also, young children have a habit of putting their hands in their mouths, which is an easy way for asbestos to enter the body.
Where can you find asbestos in a school?
Asbestos-containing products don’t usually pose any health risks unless they’re damaged, which is when they’re more likely to release mineral fibers into the air. In a school, particularly one that’s been built before the 1980s, asbestos can be found in certain floor and ceiling tiles, spray-applied fireproofing, pipe and boiler insulation, acoustical and decorative insulation, corrugated paper pipe wrap and cement pipes. It’s very important to avoid these products when they’re not in good shape, particularly during construction and renovation projects.
Here’s what Julian Peto, a member of the COC, had to say about the consequences of asbestos exposure in schools during the 20th century.
“It is reasonable to say that something in the order of 100 or 150 deaths per year from mesothelioma in women could in the future be due to asbestos levels in schools up to the 1960s and 1970s,” Peto said in a press release. “It is a reasonable assumption that the same number of males as females are dying of mesothelioma caused by their asbestos exposure at school.”
If you find that you’ve been exposed to asbestos as a child in school, you should consult a lawyer for advice on your legal options.
If you’re a parent or guardian who has concerns about your child’s safety, remember that each school has a designated local education agency that has to train a selected individual to oversee asbestos-related activities on school grounds. He or she has to keep track of inspections and management plans, all of which have to be noted in records that are available for public review. To have a look, contact the school or the local education agency.