Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Sci-Tech watch, 8: Asbestos and school buildings in Montserrat . . .

Over the past several days, there has been a bit of an upsurge over public concerns on the discovery of remaining asbestos used in partitions (and possibly roofing) at a secondary school here in Montserrat. (Quite some years ago, a project was undertaken to remove asbestos from such buildings, it seems it missed some.)

It is worth noting some background on asbestos and its damages from a Government of Victoria, Australia site:
Asbestos and your health - Better Health Channel
Asbestos can cause serious diseases including cancers, such as mesothelioma and lung cancer, and other non-malignant lung diseases such as asbestosis, pleural plaques and pleural thickening. Asbestos has been used in roofing, asbestos cement sheets and pipes, insulation, building materials and other products.
Plans announced in a press conference yesterday include evacuation of the school compound, relocation of a primary school to share campus with another, and relocation of the secondary school to the campus of the primary school, followed by replacement and reconstruction.

However, some additional points of concern need to be at least mentioned:

1 --> Volcanic ash is comparably dangerous, for similar reasons of potential to cause lung damage. Unfortunately, too often people do not treat such ash with the degree of concern and care that they should.

2 --> Cement and concrete dust are also potentially quite dangerous, as is clay dust.

3 --> The Salem area, where the campus is located, is in a zone still at risk of volcanic hazards, including significant dust from eruptions. 

4 --> Also, in the event of an evacuation due to a volcanic event on the still active volcano, it would be better if all students are north of the Woodlands- St Peters area, so that parents would simply move north to where their children are instead of having a panic about moving to Salem on the bank of the Belham valley which runs back up to the volcano, then coming back to the north on the one narrow road.
5 --> Proposals to expand and rebuild the school there raise questions, regardless of the fact that the Government already owns the relevant land. Indeed, there have been concerns over the years on major investments in public infrastructure and buildings in such a zone.
Perhaps, there is need for some further thinking on the longer term solution to the problem, as well as on other related health and safety issues. END