Thousands of University Students Sleeping in Rooms with Asbestos


An investigation by the Guardian newspaper has found that thousands of university students are currently sleeping in rooms with asbestos. If you are exposed to asbestos you could be at risk of developing cancer.

Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos used to be a common building material until its use was outlawed in 2000. However, it remains in older buildings and in recent years, there has been an increasing number of cases where people are suffering the symptoms of asbestos exposure from public buildings.

Students Kept in the Dark about Asbestos

This year alone it has been estimated that up to 17,000 university students will sleep in a room that contains asbestos. This asbestos could be anywhere, from floor and ceiling tiles to the insulation in the room.

The universities in question all have schemes in place for dealing with asbestos, but if the harmful substance is exposed and not reported, it could have devastating effects.

Many of the students don't even know the asbestos is there as their university have not informed them for fear of causing alarm. However, they insist that the asbestos is fully sealed and completely safe.

The accommodation investigated in this report is on campus, therefore it has been provided by the university. Many parents and their children choose this type of living over private rental as they believe it to be safer and more secure.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) has expressed its alarm at the news and asked government to "take immediate action to ensure these bedrooms are checked, made safe and have the asbestos removed."

The Harms of Asbestos

Asbestos is responsible for 4,500 deaths a year. The most common diseases it causes are:
  • Asbestosis - a lung disease caused by asbestos and dust over a long period of time, also known as fibrosis
  • Mesothelioma - a type of lung cancer that is usually fatal, which starts in the lungs and moves to the abdomen
  • Asbestos related lung cancer – a condition where the tissue around the lungs hardens or where excess fluid builds up between the lung and the chest wall

These diseases often take a long time to develop and by the time they are properly diagnosed it is often too late.

What can you do?

In 2011, the Department of Education stated that if the asbestos was left alone and not "damaged or disturbed" then it was safer to leave it in place with proper monitoring systems.

To look after yourself you should do the following:
  • Report any damage to your room as soon as possible - small exposures usually do not lead to cancer, but over time they can have a distressing effect
  • Go to your doctor for a check-up and immediate diagnosis if you believe you have already been exposed to asbestos fibres, as early treatment of the disease will increase your chances of survival
  • See a solicitor if you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness, so you can claim compensation from the university

You have 3 years from the time you first became aware of your illness to bring your claim.

If a loved one died because of exposure to asbestos, then you can claim on their behalf. You will have 3 years from the time of their death to do so.

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