Student accommodation asbestos scandal

My blog post on the HMS Belfast questioned why visitors to the ship were not informed about the presence of asbestos on board the vessel before they purchased their tickets. A newspaper story I came across published in the Guardian back in August provides an even more potent example of failure to inform those who could be affected by the presence of asbestos. The article written by Martin Williams, highlights the widescale provision of student accommodation by universities where asbestos is present.

Using the freedom of information legislation, Williams found that 38 out of 88 universities who responded to his request, admitted that asbestos was present in the student accommodation they provided. The single largest number of asbestos containing bedrooms was at the University of Warwick, which has 2313. Overall he found there were at least 17000 student bedroooms across the country containing asbestos. A simple back of the envelope calculation in fact provides an even more worrying figure. The asbestos would have been present in these rooms for at least 30 years, and as such 17000 x 30 years means that over half a million students have lived in such accommodation. Of course in reality this is likely to be a serious underestimate as the asbestos is likely in many instances to have been present for far longer.

The Williams report provides graphic evidence of students being kept in the dark by some universities. Cardiff University has 1500 such rooms and admitted it did not tell students about the presence of asbestos, claiming it was low risk. This is quite frankly not good enough. All students should be pre-informed, allowing them and their parents the choice as to whether or not they wish to live in close proximity to such material.

Student accommodation is without doubt an important income stream for many universities, and it must be asked if the failure to inform by some universities is based upon fears of loss of such income, as well as avoiding the inevitable high cost of removal. Profit over health is unacceptable. All universities should be required at the very least to pre-warn students – no debate.

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