The Effects of Asbestos Exposure on Children

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer which has a latency period of between 10 and 40 years. The disease can develop from inhaling just a single asbestos fibre.

Asbestos in schools has been the headline of many news articles in recent months, in particular Cwmcarn High School which remains closed since October 2012 after asbestos was identified in the building. It follows that campaigners are now urging that asbestos is removed from all England’s schools.

Approximately a third of England’s school buildings are thought to contain asbestos.  The asbestos becomes harmful when it is damaged or disturbed and harmful fibres are released into the atmosphere.

Over the past two years, The Committee on Carcinogenicity have been considering how exposure to asbestos affects children compared with its effects upon adults. This committee is an independent entity which advises the Government on cancer issues.

The Committee published its final report on 7th June 2013 and reported that “Because of differences in life expectancy, for a given dose of asbestos, the lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma is predicted to be about 3.5 times greater for a child first exposed at age five compared to an adult first exposed at age 25 and about five times greater when compared to an adult first exposed at age 30”. This is because children will live longer and the disease has more time to develop.

The committee have also stated that there are a number of uncertainties and data gaps in their findings. They also stated that they do not have enough data to determine whether children are more susceptible to the disease.

The Health and Safety Executive advises that it is safer to leave asbestos where it is than to disturb and remove it. Schools currently need to comply with strict legal duties when dealing with asbestos.

 The Department for Education have stated that they are working closely with the Health and Safety Executive in order to make sure that the schools comply with these legal duties and they are working to ensure that asbestos is managed properly in schools.