Asbestos school roofs pose potential health risks

An example of an asbestos roof at a school in KZN. Picture: Zanele Zulu

An example of an asbestos roof at a school in KZN. Picture: Zanele Zulu

Published Mar 11, 2021


Durban - More than 900 KwaZulu-Natal schools have asbestos roofing.

The Department of Education recently revealed that 908 schools have asbestos roofs, in response to questions from IFP MPL Mntomuhle Khawula.

Most of the schools are in the eThekwini Municipality.

Asbestos roofing material can pose serious health risks if it becomes damaged or weathered over time. In terms of the Department of Basic Education school infrastructure norms and standards regulations, which were adopted in 2013, all schools built entirely of asbestos had to be replaced by November 29, 2016.

However, it is unclear what should happen to schools that only had asbestos roofing.

According to the Education Department’s breakdown by district, most of the schools (303) that still had asbestos roofing were in uMlazi, followed by Ugu with 179, the King Cetshwayo district with 177 and Ilembe with 133 schools.

Pinetown district had 25 schools. In its written response to Khawula, the department said, to date, about 42 schools have had the asbestos removed and another 16 would have the asbestos removed in the first quarter of this year. It has set aside about R16 million for the process.

Khawula said unacceptable.

“It is very disappointing that to date, in KwaZulu-Natal, we have only removed it from just 42 schools in all that time. We are talking about thousands of lives here that are exposed to this,” he said.

Khawula said he wanted to have a one-on-one meeting with MEC Kwazi Mshengu to discuss a number of issues.

DA education spokesperson Dr the situation was

Imran Keeka said the long-term exposure to asbestos could cause cancer.

“One of the prime examples of this is a school in Pietermaritzburg, where there was gross exposure – we called for that school to be condemned but it's still operating.”

He said he was concerned about whether the department would be able to address the issue.

“In the previous financial year, the infrastructure budget was cut by R495 million and this year it increased by a measly R75 million. We do not believe the department will have the money to attend to these schools, eradicate the seven mud schools remaining, and deal with more than a 1 000 that still have pit latrines.”

Department spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi said they had a programme to address the asbestos problem.

“The purse is not enough to move at the speed we would have liked to move at,” said Mahlambi.

The Mercury

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