An Alarming Number of Students In Wales Have Been Living With Asbestos
Recent findings by BBC Wales have shown the alarming number of student houses in Cardiff, Aberystwyth and University of Wales Trinity St David containing asbestos, with over 3,000 students living with and potentially inhaling the material last year.
According to the HSE, asbestos is the greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. But what is it exactly?
Asbestos is a mineral that takes the form of fibrous crystals and is usually white. The inhalation of the fibres can potentially cause mesothelioma and lung cancer. Despite this, the universities failed to alert students to the potential risks, a move that has been condemned as “reckless” by The British Lung Foundation.
Aberystwyth University claims the asbestos present in some of its student halls (Cwrt Mawr, Pantycelyn and Penbryn) poses no risk to students.
William, a recent Aberystwyth graduate, lived in Penbryn halls.
“When I moved in to Penbryn, the staff told us that the asbestos would only become a problem if we started breathing it in. I don’t know what asbestos smells like though, so I can only hope that I haven’t.”
Mari is also a former Aberystwyth student, and struggled with asbestos outside of the university’s halls while renting privately in the town.
“We had a mandatory check from HMO (Houses in Multiple Occupation), who came round to make sure everything is okay so that the estate agents get to keep their license. Well, our estate agent told us he was ‘good friends’ with the HMO officer to start off with! The HMO officer came in, didn’t really look at anything and then left – even though our house was damp, disgusting and contained asbestos. We didn’t find out about the asbestos until later when I made a formal complaint to HMO.”
After Mari’s complaint, a second officer was sent to inspect her house and it was noticed that their door frame was riddled with asbestos. Still, nothing was done about the problem.
William also mentioned that when he lived in Penbryn, the students were too upset about living in bunk rooms to care too much about the presence of asbestos. Due to a large intake that year, Aberystwyth University suddenly found it didn’t have enough rooms to accommodate for all first year students. To compensate, it divided single rooms into ‘bunk rooms’. These consisted of a bunk bed, one sink, one desk and one wardrobe between two students. As the year progressed, opportunities to move out became available but were not guaranteed.
Highlighting a different issue, Mari mentioned how she thought the asbestos problem “went hand-in-hand with the way estate agents want to do everything for minimal effort and low cost,” which suggests that asbestos problems in houses rented outside of the university could be down to the neglect of the owners.
It seems the risks of living with asbestos in Aberystwyth and other universities in Wales were overshadowed by all the countless other housing problems students have to face. Both the universities and landlords must now act to ensure all students have a safe place to live.
Source: BBC Wales