Aberystwyth Old College

We would like to think that there are no new asbestos exposures. After all, we have known of the dangers of asbestos for decades if not even longer. And we stopped using it for most purposes many, many years back.

The people getting sick from asbestos-related illnesses were exposed long ago and there’s no more danger now. Right? Wrong.

This week we learned from the BBC that students at three universities in Wales lived in rooms that contained asbestos last academic year.

According to the BBC article: “They said that because the material was considered low risk in the rooms, they do not tell students it is there.”

Oh dear.

When discussing a dangerous carcinogen like asbestos, “low risk” is relative. One exposure is all it takes to possibly cause lethal disease years or even decades down the road.

Athough it is true that asbestos is most dangerous when disturbed, if you don’t know it’s there, you don’t know not to disturb it. University administrators have said that the “low risk” asbestos “is securely sealed and would take a serious intervention, such as drilling, to release fibres.” Can you think of any reason to do any drilling in a dorm room? A loft bed, perhaps, or hanging a picture? It is probable that students are asked not to make any holes in the walls, but, again, if they are unaware of the danger, they might think a little spackle goes a long way.

If institutions are going to leave asbestos in place, believing nothing will ever happen to disturb it (natural disaster, anyone?), they should at least have to be transparent about it and let families make informed choices about housing before, not after, the school year is over.