Worse Science

I’ve commented before on the rubbishness of Southampton’s local “newspaper”, the Southern Daily Echo.

And on the day I mentioned that I was reading “Bad Science” (i.e. yesterday), they neatly illustrated both their own rubbishness and the dangers of bad science reporting. Have a look at this story. So, our schools are filled with “deadly asbestos”, are they? So are most buildings dating from before the mid-nineties. Perhaps someone should tell the Echo that the schools’ central heating is driven by explosive gas (which is also an asphyxiant), and the electrical cables are stuffed to bursting with killer volts.

Even more worrying is the quote from “one leading teaching union” that “children’s lives are at risk until all asbestos is removed from schools”. The fact that the union isn’t named makes me think it’s a quote the Echo has invented, and I certainly hope so – the idea that the people responsible for the next generation’s education could come up with something so inaccurate and alarmist is the scariest part of the whole thing. We expect lazy research and hyperbole from Echo journos – but teachers are supposed to be clever (although there are stories in “Bad Science” that give the lie to that, as well).

Asbestos fibres floating free in air are dangerous: if inhaled they’re small enough to breach the body’s natural defences and penetrate to the lungs, where they can cause mesothelioma. Asbestos containing materials (ACMs) such as asbestos cement – which is almost certainly the form most of the asbestos in school buildings takes – are safe as long as they’re undamaged, and the safest thing to do is leave them in place, and inspect regularly to make sure they’re undamaged. Even if they are damaged, it’s far safer to repair and re-seal than remove.

Still, I don’t suppose that would sell many papers.

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