Warning on asbestos risk in schools

Many schools in Haifa still have asbestos in their roofs and window shades, and in many cases the aging substance has begun to crumble and to release its dangerous fibers into the surrounding air, reports www.mynet.co.il. And doctors are warning that children exposed to the fibers today can suffer from chronic lung diseases in years to come. According to the report, many schools in the city have old asbestos sheeting in their roofs or window shades, and they are being corroded by age, the sea air and the current winter winds. In particular, the report named the Ofakim and Ginegar schools in Rehov Derech Hayam, as well as Ironi Alef, Gimmel and Hey. The report said the problem was particularly bad at Ironi Hey, where fragments of asbestos were lying scattered around from an old structure that had been torn down. Dr. Yasser Mansour, head of the city's Parents' Committee and himself a doctor specializing in lung diseases, said that asbestos fibers were notorious for lodging in human lungs and causing chronic diseases. "This [the old asbestos] can take revenge on our children in decades to come," Mansour said. The head of the asbestos department at the Environmental Protection Ministry, Tamar Bar-On, said that as long as an asbestos sheet remained complete and untouched, it did not pose a danger and there was no reason to remove it. But she said the ministry "does not like the situation" of having asbestos roofs and window shades in schools, because even if the substance was properly maintained, children could crack or break it by kicking a ball into it. Bar-On also said that winter winds and the salty sea air in Haifa were corrosive and could cause the release of asbestos fibers. She said the ministry could not force schools to paint the asbestos sheets every two years as required to prevent the release of fibers, and would like to see "orderly action" to remove the substance from schools. "Instead of wasting money on painting every two years, it is preferable to direct these moneys towards the dismantling of the structures," she said. Bar-On added that throughout 2008 the city of Haifa had not made one request to have asbestos removed from a school. An Education Department spokesman said the department was "interested" in removing asbestos from schools so that the buildings would be at their best, but legally it was the local authorities that bore sole responsibility for the maintenance of school structures. No comment was reported from the city.