By Isaac Mwangi | Wednesday Jan 9, 2019
Nanyuki Boys High School in Laikipia County has started removing cancer-causing asbestos from the roofs of classrooms. This is according to the school’s Board of Management chairman Robert Mungai.
The chairman also said that the school had engaged the national Environmental Management Authority (Nema) to provide guidelines on the safe removal of the asbestos roofing.
This action follows Nema’s order to replace the roof due to the serious risks of cancer posed by asbestos. “The sheets wear off naturally and since they date back so many years to the colonial period, they now pose health risks to the school,” Laikipia county Nema director Fanuel Mosago said. He further warned that water collected from the roof can cause cancer. The asbestos fibres accumulate in the body and inhalation of fibres can cause lung cancer.
“We are advising anyone else with asbestos roofing to remove it and seek guidance so that they don’t cause harm to other people when disposing them of,” he said.
Although there is no law explicitly banning the use of asbestos in Kenya, Legal Notice No. 121 of the Environmental Management and Coordination (Waste Management) Regulations, 2006 classified asbestos as a hazardous substance specifically focusing on the handling and disposal of asbestos waste. The Legal Notice which came into effect in 2006 together with the existing environmental and public health laws effectively limit the use of asbestos in construction but many houses and public facilities still have asbestos roofs and drainage systems installed earlier. Property owners have been advised to remove the asbestos although this has been delayed primarily due to lack of funds with the replacement expected to cost around Ksh. 500 million.
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When left intact, and undisturbed, asbestos materials do not pose a health risk. It becomes a problem when, due to damage, disturbance, or deterioration over time, the material releases fibres into the air. Exposure to air containing the fibres increases the risk of inhaling the fibres and developing serious chronic health problems such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
The removal of asbestos therefore needs to be done cautiously and in accordance with the guidelines provided by Nema to reduce the risk of exposure to the fibres. Any person who has any intentions of removing or decommissioning and disposal of any asbestos material is required to consult the guidelines on procedures including undertaking Environmental Impact Assessment, a risk assessment and obtaining necessary approval and advice.
According to the guidelines, asbestos waste must be disposed of at Nema approved disposal sites only and should be buried as deep as practically possible to accommodate more asbestos waste but at least one (1) metre above water table. A disposal sites should also be completely fenced off with a lockable gate which shall be locked at all times and a clear warning notices stating “Asbestos hazard area, keep out” placed at the disposal site.
More details are available in the Nema Asbestos Disposal Guidelines are available Here