Kozhikode, India - Asbestos roofs that sit over the heads of school children in at least one Indian state are causing lots of fears about exposure to the carcinogenic material.
A story in the Times of India reports that at least 60 schools in Kozhikode – both government-run and private – have roofs that are made of asbestos. Asbestos materials are commonly used in developing countries for building purposes because they are inexpensive and durable, and India is no exception. The toxic mineral is everywhere.
Even though the State Human Rights Commission prohibited the use of asbestos roofing at schools in 2009, the article points out that the Kozhikode district has yet to implement the order and hundreds upon hundreds of children remain at risk on a daily basis. More alarming, say concerned citizens, is that the local government doesn’t even have a handle on which schools have asbestos roofs and which don’t.
"We do not have a consolidated data on this. Of the 1,162 schools in the government, aided and unaided sectors, less than 100 schools are functioning in temporary buildings made of asbestos roofs," confirmed P Ajayakumar, deputy director of education in-charge. "We are in the process of ensuring that buildings of government schools that are functioning in the temporary sheds do not use asbestos," he added.
But, say local school officials, when it comes to building schools to accommodate the many children of school age, they are at a loss for finding affordable materials that are safer than asbestos.
"We know the health hazards of asbestos sheets. But we are helpless. We don't have money to construct school building by spending huge sums. There were 15 classrooms under asbestos roofs. We have reduced the number to nine," said N Basheer, staff secretary of the Government Ganapath Model Girls HSS.
Still, parents, education officials, and local medical professionals blame the government for not following up to see who’s complying with the 2009 law. Doctors, especially, have warned that the children’s continued exposure to the chrysotile “white” asbestos in the roofs – likely imported from Canada or Russia – could wind up being a terrible tragedy for so many families in India.