Asbestos concerns rise as affected schools close
The city hall in České Budějovice closed three primary schools in a housing estate this week after health workers discovered the presence of carcinogenic asbestos. While teachers attempt to create alternative plans for the several hundred students, asbestos concerns have returned to the public awareness nationwide, and health officials warn that many more public buildings may carry the same risks.
Most worryingly, the three schools closed were the three schools tested – chosen for inspection because they were reinsulated in the summer. The students there may thus have been breathing asbestos for three months already (though the problem was in fact confined to certain rooms). How many more institutions could be posing health risks is impossible to estimate. Since September and the end of the renovation season, four schools in Prague also had to move students elsewhere due to asbestos concerns, as did one nursery in Česká Lípa, north of Prague. The country’s chief medical officer, Michal Vít, is ordering inspections in all schools built during the 1970s and 80s that have recently undergone renovations.
Prefabricated buildings can be reconstructed safely, but at no small cost. The asbestos panels must be removed according to very strict procedure. And because their removal is so demanding in terms of time, money and worker safety, companies often skirt the rules, and the buildings users are not the only victims of poor practices. Workers should be dressed in overalls and breathing masks; a protective zone is to be set out around the construction site. Nonetheless, the daily Mladá fonta Dnes cites residents who have observed much different procedures – foreign workers dressed only to the waist using hydraulic drills while nearby schools windows were open.