There is still hope that nearly 800,000 square metres of deadly asbestos roofing material that remains intact will have been cleared and disposed of by 2016, an official at Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA) has said.
Citing a bigger pool of trained technicians who are able to help in clearing and disposing of asbestos roofing as well as an increased number of disposal sites, Gisele Ihozo, who coordinates the asbestos eradication project at RHA, gave assurances that the material will be history by 2016.
“The fact that there are enough people trained to remove asbestos and enough burial sites for the roofing material in the country means we will be able to move faster. If everyone does their homework in the fight against asbestos, it is possible to meet the government’s deadline to remove all asbestos roofs by 2016,” she told The New Times on Monday.
Efforts to eradicate asbestos started in October 2009, when the Cabinet gave a six-month period within which people or institutions with asbestos on their roofs would have got rid of them.
But that target proved too ambitious with a limited number of trained technicians to remove asbestos, coupled with limited funds.
In 2013, the government estimated that there was more than one million square metres of asbestos roofing that had to be cleared and disposed of by 2016, an exercise that was estimated to cost Rwf23 billion.
But things have changed since then, with the price to remove asbestos going down as a result of a bigger number of trained technicians who can remove asbestos roofs as well as an increased number of asbestos burial sites.
Ihozo said about 590 private companies, inmates managed by the Rwanda Correctional Service, Police and the military personnel have been trained on how to remove asbestos, while 15 asbestos burial sites have been prepared across the country.
So far, 60 per cent or 790,000 square metres remain out of 1,308,259 square metres of asbestos roofing that had to be cleared and disposed in 2013, the official said.
The remaining asbestos roofing material are mainly found at government and religion-owned public structures such as hospitals and schools, as well as office buildings that were constructed before the 1980s, around the time when it was found out that inhalation of thin asbestos fibres causes serious respiratory diseases such as lung cancer.
According to Bishop Smaragde Mbonyintege, the spokesperson for the Catholic Church – which has the biggest number of asbestos roofed structures – a lot has been done to remove the roofs since 2013 and he hopes that the church will be done with removing asbestos on its buildings “very soon.”
Most of the asbestos-roofed structures belonging to the church are schools.
“We have done a lot. We are close to finishing the removal of asbestos on our structures,” Mbonyintege told The New Times yesterday.
Officials at different levels have also been sensitising the general public about the removal of asbestos, such as in the case of the country’s senators who included the issue on their agenda of discussions in their ongoing tour across the country to assess the state of habitat.
“It has been noticed that asbestos is dangerous for people’s life; so everyone should understand that it has to be removed. We hope that the target to finish removing it by 2016 will be met,” said Senator Perrine Mukankusi, chairperson of the Senatorial Standing Committee on Economic Development and Finance.
Asbestos, a mineral, was mixed in many types of construction materials and other purposes in the past as it was recognised with positive features of high durability and fire resistance.
But in the 1980s, after mass production of asbestos materials, it was found out that inhalation of very thin asbestos fibers causes serious respiratory diseases such as lung cancer, which cannot be fully cured even by the most advanced medical technologies in the world.
When asbestos is dangerous
The most common way for asbestos fibres to enter the body is through breathing. In fact, asbestos containing material is not generally considered to be harmful unless it is releasing dust or fibres into the air where they can be inhaled or ingested. Once they are trapped in the body, the fibres can cause health problems.
Asbestos is most hazardous when it is friable. The term ‘friable’ means that the asbestos is easily crumbled by hand, releasing fibres into the air. Sprayed on asbestos insulation is highly friable. Asbestos floor tile is not.
Asbestos-containing ceiling tiles, floor tiles, undamaged laboratory cabinet tops, shingles, fire doors, siding shingles, etc, will not release asbestos fibers unless they are disturbed or damaged in some way. If an asbestos ceiling tile is drilled or broken, for example, it may release fibres into the air. If it is left alone and not disturbed, it will not.
Damage and deterioration will increase the friability of asbestos-containing materials. Water damage, continual vibration, aging, and physical impact such as drilling, grinding, buffing, cutting, sawing, or striking can break the materials down, making fibre release more likely.