Students caught in asbestos cancer scare

Numerous medical studies have shown that asbestos fibers are a prime cause of cancer of the lung lining.

Hundreds of school pupils who have taken part in National Youth Band activities in Haifa over the past 20 years have been exposed to dangerous and carcinogenic asbestos fibers, reports the Hebrew weekly Yediot Haifa. The city has abruptly stopped activities at the band's building in the Hadar neighborhood after a recent inspection revealed the asbestos risk, but current and former participants are now worried about their risk of developing cancer from the exposure. According to the report, hundreds of fourth to twelfth grade students have taken part in activities at the building over the years, and an extraordinary number have complained of health problems such as stomach aches and breathing difficulties. Worried parents recently demanded a building inspection, which was carried out last week and determined that the building was indeed dangerous. The band's activities there were immediately halted and the city suggested a temporary alternative at the the municipal youth center. A municipal spokesman said the city was working on finding a permanent home for the band, which was created in 1989 and is regarded as one of Israel's leading youth bands. Numerous medical studies have shown that asbestos fibers are a prime cause of cancer of the lung lining. The newspaper said the Health Ministry diagnoses 10 new cases of asbestos-related cancers every year in Israel, while in the US 50,000 people have died of asbestos-related cancers over the past 30 years. Asbestos is not considered problematic when it is contained in a structure, but as soon as it is drilled or cut - or if it begins to crumble from age - tiny asbestos fibers spread through the air, from where they are inhaled and lodge in the lungs, causing scarring of the tissue. Industrial medicine specialist Dr. Shlomo Moshe said that asbestos is dangerous in any building. "Even if you hang up a painting or run a wire through a wall, this spreads dangerous asbestos fibers through the air," he said. In recent years the government has ordered the destruction of buildings containing asbestos, and the substance is no longer used in any new buildings. The destruction work must be done by specialized contractors to avoid the spread of asbestos fibers. The Environmental Protection Ministry estimates that there are more than one million square meters of asbestos structures in Israel.