Asbestos in schools: the shock investigation not to be missed

Asbestos in schools: the shock investigation not to be missed

Last June, journalists from “Vert de rage” revealed the presence of asbestos in thousands of schools in Europe. This evening, a documentary broadcast on Europe 5 returns to this investigation, gives voice to teacher victims and reveals the economic issues of this material at the origin of many cancers.

Long used as insulation in buildings, asbestos fibers were classified as carcinogenic in 1970, it was only banned in Europe in 1997 and is still present in certain buildings, including primary and elementary schools. Twenty-six years after its ban, more than 85% of school buildings are likely to contain it.

A “difficult” census of educational establishments

To find out the number of nursery and primary schools affected by the presence of asbestos within them, the teams of the documentary series “Vert de rage”, broadcast on Europe 5, launched a gigantic census of all primary schools. and nursery schools in Europe. For a year, Mathilde Cusin, Martin Boudot and the “Vert de rage” team investigated the number of schools in Europe still containing asbestos.

The last census on the presence of asbestos in schools was carried out by the National Observatory for the Safety and Accessibility of Educational Establishments (ONS), an organization attached to National Education which no longer exists. since 2020. “Vert de rage” therefore wanted to update the data, but few town halls respond, due to lack of knowledge on the subject, means of carrying out work or prevention.

More than 5,500 schools still contain asbestos in Europe

To carry out this painstaking work, thousands of requests were sent to town halls in Europe. According to their feedback, two-thirds of schools do not have a formal diagnosis of the presence or absence of asbestos within them. A search engine is available on the website of our colleagues at Europe Info.

Indeed, of the 15,804 schools existing in the territory, 5,507 show traces of it, 4,771 do not show any and for the rest, it is vague… For the most part, the diagnoses have been made, but their conclusions are not accessible.

Asbestos, a material dangerous to health

If asbestos is so scary, it is because it has caused many deaths and is likely to continue to be responsible for more deaths. There is no threshold below which breathing asbestos fibers is not dangerous. Asbestos would be responsible for the deaths of 70,000 to 100,000 people between 2009 and 2050; causes between 150 and 170 laryngeal and ovarian cancers each year; and, within education, 20 to 60 education personnel report mesothelioma each year, that is to say cancer of the pleura. Two teachers, one of whom suffers from asbestos-related cancer, bear witness to this little-known reality in this documentary. One of them is now deceased.

What impact can these fibers have on children? Today, they remain little known when these diseases generally appear several decades after exposure. What particularly worries Vincent, this father who has just received the DTA (asbestos technical file) from his son’s school which is “970 times higher than American standards“.

Towards a parliamentary commission of inquiry?

The results of their investigation were presented in June 2023 and at the time, LFI MP Louis Boyard announced that he was going to request the creation of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the presence of asbestos in, “eight classes out of ten”denouncing a “sanitary bomb” and the “criminal passivity” of the government.

Questioned by journalists, the then Minister of Education Pape Ndiaye declared that he had given the mission to launch a census of establishments containing asbestos. Information confirmed by the ministry despite changes in ministers. “It should be made available to the general public in the coming months.” specify the journalists.

No progress since, apart from the town halls of Paris or Marseille, which have said they want to create steering committees to tackle the problem and disseminate data concerning all asbestos technical files (DTA – which include risk assessments). But mayors generally say they lack the money to finance the costs of asbestos removal.

The asbestos industry is doing well

After having been exploited for years in Europe, this material continues to be used in Russia, India, China and Kazakhstan, where the largest mine in the world still exploits it. The reporters went to see this factory where a former employee is fighting alone to obtain information, where the hospital is overwhelmed with lung and bronchial cancer patients…

At the same time, the asbestos market continues to prosper with growth of 7% in 2022, a market worth one billion euros. Thanks to the effectiveness of this lobby, asbestos once again managed not to be included among the dangerous import-export products at the last UN meeting.

The documentary can be seen this evening on Europe 5 and in replay on the Europe TV website.