There are more pressing social issues this money could be spent on in the short term, he said.
The NIOH experts’ views are in line with policy in the United Kingdom and United States, which recommend that as long as asbestos-containing materials are in good condition it is safest to manage them in situ because removal or demolition increases the risk that asbestos fibres are released in to the air.
For this to work, schools do need to have an effective asbestos management plan, however, to ensure that the structures that contain asbestos are not disturbed or damaged.
Ramulifho agreed with Rees and Mizan on the need for a systematic plan to replace the asbestos schools rather than what he described as the “uncoordinated” way the department has tackled the problem so far.
But he did not agree that it would be better to prioritise maintenance rather than rebuilding, despite the current budget constraints.
“They have to go,” said Ramulifho. “You can’t make it about head masters having to maintain their schools when it is the materials the schools are made of that is the problem.”
Bodibe, the GDE’s spokesperson, described the delivery of adequate infrastructure as a “mammoth task”.
Without referring to the GDE’s failure to replace even one asbestos school by the 2016 deadline, Bodibe said that significant progess had been made in replacing dilapidated structures and building completely new schools.
“But the department is faced with a number of problems including overcrowding due to an annual increase in learner enrolment, insufficient funds for infrastructure delivery and lack of delivery capacity,” he said.
The department needs to plan properly, said Ramilifho. And to do that they must know how many asbestos schools there are.
“They need to decide how many schools they are going to replace this year, and next year and the next, and prioritise how much money they need to do that until all those schools are replaced,” he said.
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