Cancerous Asbestos Still in Philippine Schools’ Laboratories Amid Officials’ Word to Ban it

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Asbestos-laden wire gauzes are still being used by students in their Chemistry and Biology classes despite assurance of the Department of Education in November 2011 to remove it from campuses and save millions of students, teachers and non-teaching staffs from exposure to cancer-causing mineral banned in many countries, the Associated Labor Uninons-TUCP and Building And Wood Workers International (BWI) announced yesterday.

“We found this out after a series of occular visits in several schools following the opening of classes in public and private classes on June 3 and June 10. The ban campaign, again, urge the Deped, CHED, and private school officials to ensure that the directive and the memorandum they issued in removing these wire gauzes from campuses are enforced to the letter. We should not sacrifice the health of our future citizens and that of our teachers and non-teaching school personnel,” said Alan Tanjusay, advocacy officer of the Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP).

The ALU-TUCP partners with the BWI in banning asbestos in the country.

The ALU and BWI found out the a sample of wire gauze used by all schools and professional laboratories in the Philippines contains 3 per cent Chrysotile asbestos in a testing and analysis conducted by a private laboratory using polarized light and dispersion staining technique.

Asbestos wire gauzes function as heat insulator and regulator of beakers from direct heat. Repeated exposure to high and direct flames, wire gauzes become fragile and crumbly. When the crumbly gauze is disturbed, first and second-hand exposure from its dust begins. We cannot see the dust because each dust is invincible to the naked eyes– it is five thousand times smaller than a piece of hair in diameter, Tanjusay said.

“We are worried that if these are not removed from campuses, our children, brothers and sisters, our siblings, our teachers and non-teaching staffs’ health are in great risk to firsthand and second-hand exposures. We urge the Deped, Ched and private schools officials to take action ASAP,” Tanjusay stressed.

The World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has affirmed since 1977 that exposure to all asbestos caused asbestos-related diseases and cancers in the lungs, larynx, and the ovaries. Other ARDs include mesothelioma (which destroys the linings of several internal organs), asbestosis, as well as pleural plaques thickening and effusions 10 to 30 years later.

The United Kingdom’s committee on carcinogenicity recently decided that mesothelioma risk for children is higher because of the increased time available for the disease to develop. They said a five-year old is 5.3 times more likely to develop mesothelioma by the age of 80 than a 30-year old.

The WHO says that all types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs). Exposure to asbestos occurs through inhalation of fibres in air in the working environment, ambient air in the vicinity of point sources such as factories handling asbestos, or indoor air in housing and buildings containing friable (crumbly) asbestos materials.

Currently about 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at the workplace. In 2004, asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis from occupational exposures resulted in 107,000 deaths and 1,523,000 Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs). In addition, several thousands of deaths can be attributed to other asbestos-related diseases, as well as to non-occupational exposures to asbestos, the WHO said.

Elimination of asbestos-related diseases should take place through the following public health actions:

1. recognizing that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos;
2. replacing asbestos with safer substitutes and developing economic and technological mechanisms to stimulate its replacement;
3. taking measures to prevent exposure to asbestos in place and during asbestos removal (abatement), and;
4. improving early diagnosis, treatment, social and medical rehabilitation of asbestos-related diseases and establishing registries of people with past and/or current exposures to asbestos. ###

In disposing the materials, the ALU-TUCP/BWI recommend the following measure:

• Collect information from all the schools that had asbestos-containing wire gauze.
• Those who will collect must wear approved protective gear—face mask, gloves, boots, eye goggles, shoes booties, head cover and coveralls. Inhaling or coming into contact with asbestos is extremely dangerous.
• The asbestos-containing wire gauzes (especially the used ones) must be sprayed with water and kept wet before removal and during transport.
• Local schools must be informed that these collected wire gauze must be properly packaged while waiting for disposal. Packaging must be in thick plastic. Fold and seal with tape to make it airtight. Label it with “Asbestos Waste.”
• Discuss collection and disposal system with DENR. These materials must be properly packaged already for easy pick-up. The collection crew can pass each school based on the most efficient route. Each plastic with the asbestos shall be consolidated in plastic asbestos waste bags (0.2mm) by the disposal contractor.
• When a full truckload is collected, the truck shall go to the disposal facility to unload and properly dispose of the waste bags.
• This shall continue until collection from all schools in the inventory/register has been completed.

Common symptoms of diseases caused by asbestos exposure:
• Coughing
• Chest pain
• Blood in the sputum
• Swelling in the neck or face
• Difficulty swallowing
• Loss of appetite
• Weight loss

ABOUT ALU-TUCP

Founded by dock workers in 1954, the Associated Labor Unions (ALU) had since been the country’s pioneer in championing the ideals of free trade unionism. Along with its affiliates, partners here and abroad, and an alliance with the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), ALU has been steadfast advocate of the plight of the toiling masses working in various industries and sectors.

ABOUT ALU-TUCP/BWI

The ALU partners with Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) in working towards asbestos ban and phase out in the Philippines. The partnership works to eliminate asbestos-related diseases found in public and private infrastructures and buildings such as homes, schools, work places, churches, malls, including power plants.

As a pioneering unions in the Philippines, the ALU works toward ensuring the rights, interests and welfare of regular and non-regular workers and makes sure these are promoted and protected i.e. security of tenure, freedom of association and collective bargaining or collective negotiation and providing limits in the duration and renewal of employment contracts of non-regular workers to enable them enjoy the benefits accorded to regular workers.

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