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Friday, January 6, 2012

ALU’s Anti-asbestos Campaign Saves Millions of Students, Teachers From Deadly Asbestos Dust in Philippine Schools

The Associated Labor Unions’ (ALU) ban asbestos campaign virtually saved millions of students, teachers, non-teaching personnel, and communities from primary and secondary exposure from asbestos dust following the recent decision of private colleges and state universities’ to ban the toxic wire gauzes from their campuses nationwide.
It can be recalled that in November last year, the Department of Education (DepEd) issued an order to all regional, provincial, city and municipal district superintendents to recall asbestos-containing wire gauzes from all elementary and high school laboratories.
The Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities (PACU) President Peter Laurel recently disclosed they will review the wire gauzes used in their schools. And if these contain asbestos, they will ban its use and replace them with non-asbestos wire gauze.

This was followed by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) who said that these asbestos-containing wire gauzes should be recalled and disposed of to avoid further contamination and/or exposure by students, faculty, and the entire academic communities.

“In support of your campaign against the total ban and phase-out of asbestos in the country considering the hazards it brings to our health with constant exposure with the said chemical, we have already sent a memorandum to all our regional offices so they can direct all HEIs (schools) in their respective jurisdictions to dispose all asbestos-containing materials used in chemistry and biology laboratories,” said Atty. Julito Vitriolo, CHED executive director, in his letter received by the campaign last week.

In a text message, Laurel, on the other hand, said: “we are behind you in the anti-asbestos campaign.”

These responses came after the Associated Labor Unions’ Ban Asbestos Philippines advocacy campaign met and gave CHED and PACU letters urging their officials to ban the toxic wire gauzes. PACU has 180-members private schools and colleges within their umbrella while CHED supervises more than 2,180 state and local universities, colleges including state university satellites all over the country.

“We are grateful that PACU and CHED positively answered our call and moves toward ban and recall of all asbestos-containing wire gauzes from their campuses. This is a huge victory for the campaign and very important preventive measure in protecting millions of students, teachers, non-teaching staffs, and immediate communities from incurable cancers and diseases caused by primary and secondary exposure from asbestos dust,” said Gerard Seno, ALU National Vice President and Ban Asbestos Philippines program coordinator.

Three per cent of the deadly Chrysotile asbestos was found in a wire gauze the ALU took from a school four months ago. In an analyses and tests conducted by a private laboratory using polarized light and dispersion staining technique, it was found out that it contains the deadly Chrysotile asbestos that causes various and incurable asbestos-related diseases and cancers such as asbestosis, pleural plaques thickening and effusions, and mesothelioma which destroys the linings that coat internal organs.

Asbestos-containing wire gauze is used in between a beaker or a flask from direct heat of the flame. Repeated exposure to high and direct flames, wire gauzes become brittle and crumbly. When disturbed, first and second-hand exposure from its dust begins. The dust is almost invincible to the naked eye because it is five thousand times smaller than hair in diameter.

Once inhaled or ingested, asbestos dusts are lodged in the lungs, larynx and other internal organs developing into cancer and other diseases 10 to 30 years later.
Since 1977, the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and the International Labour Organization (ILO) maintained that exposure to all asbestos, even in small amount of its dust fibers, causes asbestos-related diseases.

Wire gauzes are used to separate the beaker or the flask from direct fire from Bunsen burner. Repeated exposure to fire, wire gauzes become fragile and crumbly. When the crumbly gauze is disturbed, first and second-hand exposure to its dust begins—jeopardizing the health of teachers, students, and their families at home.

The PACU is the oldest educational organization in the Philippines representing private higher educational institutions. PACU recognizes education’s responsibility to society and believes that access to relevant quality education is the cornerstone of a democratic society.

CHED was created in 1994 and acts as a collegial body in formulating plans, policies, and strategies relating to higher education.

The ALU, meanwhile, is the country’s pioneer in championing the ideals of free-trade unionism. It partners with the Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) in working towards ban and phase out of asbestos in public and private infrastructures including residences, schools, workplaces, churches, malls and power plants. Alan A. Tanjusay, ALU Policy Advocacy Officer

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