Thursday, 11 July 2013

Asbestos Exposure and Children

A major concern of many parents is their child’s health. In fact, this is a general concern of our entire population as children are very precious so their health and safety needs to be protected.

This is why a hot topic these days is the presence of asbestos, a known deadly carcinogen, in the schools our children attend, especially as the question of whether or not children are more at risk from asbestos exposure than adults is coming more into the public consciousness.

Are children more vulnerable to asbestos-related diseases after asbestos exposure?

Yes, unfortunately, children are more at risk from asbestos exposure than adults. Why?

Asbestos-related diseases have a latency period during which the disease develops. Children have a longer time to live, which gives asbestos-related diseases enough time to develop within a child’s lifetime.

How does this work?

Assuming a thirty-year latency period, a person exposed at fifty years of age will be eighty when an asbestos-related disease develops but a child exposed at ten will only be forty when they develop an asbestos-related disease. The likelihood of the child being alive a forty is greater than the likelihood of the adult being alive at eighty years of age. You can see then that a child is ultimately more likely to develop an asbestos-related disease than the adult simply because the disease has more time to develop.

While it hasn’t been confirmed through scientific study, it is also suspected that children are more susceptible to the harmful effects of asbestos exposure due to their physical immaturity. Many doctors warn that children are not just ‘little adults’ and because their bodies aren’t fully developed, they have different reactions and interactions with hazards like asbestos than adults.

Children are also different than adults in that they have exploratory behaviours and an undeveloped understanding on danger that can lead to exposure to hazards like asbestos. And, as discussed, they have longer life expectancies than adults. Moreover, children spend time in different environments than adults. Young children spend a lot more time in the home than adults and then, as they age, they spend a lot of time in school, another different environment than adults with exception of course to those who work in schools and daycares.

Asbestos in Schools

Asbestos is present in many schools in industrialized countries like Canada and the United States because it was widely used in a large variety of building materials throughout the twentieth century due to its useful properties such as inflammability and durability.

Sadly, we now know that the use of asbestos comes at the cost of human health: those who mine, process, and work with the mineral can develop asbestos related diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer.

People are also at risk of the health effects of asbestos exposure if they spend a lot of time in buildings in which asbestos fibres are present in the air. As mentioned, children spend much of their time in school so if there were asbestos fibres in the air they breathe school can become a very dangerous situation as an environment of long-term exposure to the hazard. 

If asbestos was part of a school’s building materials and then was disturbed due to renovation or wear over time, children’s health could be at risk as they could develop asbestos-related diseases down the road.

The Precautionary Principle

Many pushing governments around the world to remove asbestos from schools argue that we must act with the precautionary principle in mind – that is, even though we don’t know for sure that children are even more at risk from asbestos exposure than adults due to their physical immaturity, we should act as if they were and remove asbestos from schools as soon as possible because if we do not take this precaution and evidence confirms that children are more at risk, then many children will have been unnecessarily put in harms way.

Resources:
Asbestos Exposure In Schools. (2011). Increased vulnerability of children to asbestos: the precautionary principle. Retrieved July 2013 from http://www.asbestosexposureschools.co.uk/pdfnewslinks/CHILDREN%20increased%20vulnerability%20to%20asbestos%202%20Nov%2009.pdf.
Joint Union Asbestos Committee. (2013). Children are more at risk from exposure to asbestos. Retrieved July 2013 from http://www.juac.org.uk/blog/children-are-more-at-risk-from-exposure-to-asbestos.
World Health Organization. (2008). Children are not little adults. Retrieved July 2013 from http://www.who.int/ceh/capacity/Children_are_not_little_adults.pdf. 

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