Monday, 22 February 2010

[Asbestos] Fun With Numbers

A lobby group does its best to talk up the dangers of asbestos (presumably white asbestos, which is nigh harmless) here:

Experts say that it is when asbestos is damaged or disturbed that it can be dangerous... About 75% of Britain's schools are thought to contain asbestos and 178 teachers are known to have died from asbestos-related illnesses, says the report.

Ho hum.

Even if that figure of '178 teachers' is reliable, we are given no idea of the time scale - so let's assume that they mean the last thirty years, or whatever the average length of a teaching career is (UPDATE: Roym in the comments confirms that this is probably correct). There are currently about half a million teachers in the UK, so there must be about one million current or former teachers still alive. If three quarters of them work, or worked, in such a school, that's 750,000. If 178 have died as a direct result of this, that's a death rate of 0.024%, or one-in-four thousand.

Further, of the current UK population, it's safe to assume that three-quarters were at school for ten years or more, of whom three-quarters attended an 'asbestos-riddled school'. That gives us a population sample of over thirty million - it's strange that they don't mention the hundreds of former pupils who must be dying of asbestosis every year if the one-in-four-thousand fatality rate is correct.


dearieme said...

Those forms of asbestos which are harmful - "blue" and "brown" - are much more harmful to smokers than non-smokers. The evidence of this synergistic effect, and the well-known explanation for it, seem to me to be among the best bits of evidence for the dangers of smoking.

roym said...

thought i heard that the 178 figure was since 1980.

no doubt there are plenty of ATAC members willing to undertake the removal work at only slightly above normal rates!

Mark Wadsworth said...

D, or evidence of dangers of blue and brown...

R, ta for confirmation. The joke is, that as white asbestos in situ is completely harmless, the price that people would be prepared to pay to have it removed in a truly free market would be precisely £nil.

Joseph Takagi said...

But if that's "since 1980", how many of those were teachers who were in schools in the 1950s or 1960s and so suffered from blue asbestos in the early 1980s.

I'd be interested to see a breakdown of that 178 by year.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Worryingly, the association's rep did a very good job of justifying this guff on Radio 5 today.

More scared helicopter parents, then.

Mark Wadsworth said...

JT, the asbestos removal lobby cheerfully blurs the distinction between different types (despite white is similar to the other two in name only), we'll never find out.

DP, what we need is more journalists asking where the missing hundreds of dead former pupils are.

Anonymous said...

I thought the bad combination was asbestos, smoking and TB.
asbestos was everywhere after WW2 I remember it being enthusiastically used as 'lagging' for water pipes to prevent them freezing.
Was there an epidemic from all this use?