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Damaging effects of Asbestos schools in Kimberley

Statistics indicate that nearly 30 percent of all mesothelioma cases in South Africa are tied to environmental exposure, most commonly in the Northern Cape. Asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma, a type of cancer caused years after the damage from asbestos fibers that get lodged in the lining of the lungs or abdomen.

The Northern Cape Department of Education is aware that there were six ordinary classrooms (including Grade R), a computer room, a laboratory and several storerooms that were constructed from asbestos material at Delta Primary School.

There are, however, eight classrooms that were constructed from brick and mortar, as well as the administration block. This resulted in the school being classified as a ‘partial replacement’. Therefore, it is being prioritized in outer years (2024/25) for partial replacement, as schools constructed fully from inappropriate material takes preference. “If funding becomes available before the planned financial year, the school can be re-prioritized,’ department spokesperson Geoffrey van der Merwe said.

“The department will, however, conduct maintenance at the facility and an inspector will be sent to evaluate the asbestos panels in order to determine whether the painting of the asbestos panels to contain the asbestos fibres will be viable”.

The proposed Asbestos Management Action Plan (AMP) is geared towards identifying the objectives, scope, management, practices and procedures required to ensure that NCPG remediate all affected sites effectively. It provides an outline of responsibilities and management procedures for dealing with asbestos products and materials. The AMP and its associated plans, instructions, registers, forms and procedures integrate and operate under the Northern Cape Provincial Government (NCPG).

Asbestos

Asbestos is a carcinogenic, fibrous mineral, which was once widely used in construction, usually for insulating purposes. Asbestos fiber has been used in everything from building materials, car parts, roads, and school playgrounds to clothing, bedding, and even tampons.

Mesothelioma is a rare incurable cancerous disease usually caused by exposure to asbestos, in which malignant cells form a tumour in the mesothelium (the outer lining that protects the body’s major organs such as the stomach, heart, and lungs) – the most common site is the pleura (the outer lining of the lungs and chest cavity).

How does one get mesothelioma?

This form of cancer is almost always a direct result of unprotected exposure to asbestos. Most people who develop mesothelioma have worked in areas where they inhaled asbestos particles, or have been exposed to asbestos dust and fibre in other ways – for example, by washing the clothes of a family member who worked with asbestos, or by home renovation using asbestos cement products. There is no association between smoking and mesothelioma.

Symptoms of mesothelioma

Symptoms include chest or abdomen pain, persistent coughing or coughing of blood, fatigue, and weight loss.

Asbestos mining in South Africa

Blue asbestos (crocidolite) was discovered in South Africa in 1805 (originally called woolstone) and within a couple of years was being mined. In 1907 amosite (brown asbestos) was discovered in (what was then known as) the Transvaal province of South Africa. The word amosite derived from an acronym of “Asbestos Mines of South Africa” from the Amosa mine [one formula given for Amosite is Fe7Si8O22(OH)2], and is a trade name for the amphibole (Amphiboles are minerals of either igneous or metamorphic origins) known as Grunerite.

Asbestos mining peaked in 1977 with 20,000 miners employed. There are also large deposits of white asbestos (chrysotile) and brown asbestos (amosite) in South Africa (which have been mined extensively). Most of the Asbestos mining was done in the Northern Cape.

The problem with asbestos arises when the fibers become airborne and are inhaled. Because of the size of the fibers, the lungs cannot expel them.

Mesothelioma in South Africa

With the highest rate of mesothelioma diagnosis on earth, South Africa has been called the “Mesothelioma Capital of the World”.

In 1960, the link between mesothelioma and asbestosis was established in the Kimberley area of South Africa. The majority of reported mesothelioma cases resulted from exposure to asbestos in secondary industry (incidence of the condition among miners was also significant).

Mesothelioma-related claims in South Africa

Feb 2004: A settlement of R460 million was reached between Gencor and South African asbestos victims.
Dec 2001: 7500 claimants received a settlement of £21 million from Cape PLC, the largest British-owned asbestos mining company in South Africa. However, the company was soon facing serious financial problems and reneged on the settlement.

Mesothelioma Timeline

1956: Wagner published his article on mesothelioma in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine.
1956: Chris Wagner, a pathologist studying asbestos, was unable to find a publisher in South Africa. Wagner documented thirty cases of mesothelioma in the Northern Cape of South Africa. His research identified tumors in miners, road workers and water well drillers from the region.
1805: Blue asbestos (crocidolite) was discovered in South Africa.

There are 3 different types of mesothelioma cells:

1. Mixed Cell Type – This cell type is a mixture of the cancer cells and is normally labeled as an intermediate form of the cancer.
2. Epithelial Cell Type – These cells are the most treatable, and have the best prognosis.
3. Fibrosarcomatous Cell Type – This cell type is the worst type of mesothelioma, and has a negative prognosis.

Treatment of Mesothelioma cancer

There are generally 3 types of treatment:

1. Surgery in which case the cancerous portion is removed from the body.
2. Radiation therapy (using x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells).
3. Chemotherapy

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