More than 200 schools in Berlin exposed to asbestos – directive not implemented everywhere

Violations of the Asbestos Directive

More than 200 asbestos-contaminated schools in Berlin

Fri 22/04/22 | 07:13 | Of Roberto Jurkschat and Ute Barthel

Christoph Soeder / dpa

Audio: rbb24 Inforadio | 22/04/2022 | Ute Bartel | Photo: Christoph Soeder / dpa

One in three schools in Berlin is contaminated with loosely bound asbestos, which can release fibers as the building ages. In such cases, the Asbestos Directive requires periodic inspections. Not all districts comply. By Roberto Jurkschat and Ute Barthel

When Karin Stolle climbs into the basement of the Spandau school in Jungfernheide, she is wearing her FFP2 mask, even though Berlin has long since lifted the mask requirement in schools.

Just a few days before Easter, the principal discovered that the school on Lenther Steig was still contaminated with loosely bound asbestos. However, not from employees of the relevant district office, but from a call from rbb24 Research. “Of course I was a little shaken, I have to be honest,” says Stolle.

Because he really believed that after the renovation of the floors and ceiling panels in 2009, the school was free of pollutants. But in the boiler room there are still fire dampers containing asbestos. As the owner of the school building, the district is obliged to check at least every five years whether asbestos fibers can enter the air we breathe. Because unlike firmly bonded asbestos, which is installed, for example, under floor coverings, the pollutant can be released in a loosely bonded form in seals or fire-fighting elements as components age [].

But although the district has been aware of the school burden for more than twelve years, no more checks have been carried out in the school. This is not an isolated case: District office test data shows that a total of 16 schools in Spandau have not been screened for at least twelve years, despite known asbestos contamination. About 7,700 students and 750 teachers are affected.

Missing information and contradictions

The use of asbestos has been banned in Germany since 1993. A survey by rbb24 research across all districts and Berliner Immobilienmanagement GmbH (BIM) showed that almost 30 years later at least 200 public schools in Berlin are still contaminated with weakly bound asbestos, or nearly one in three public schools in the capital.

Some districts do not seem to have an accurate overview of the contaminated sites in their buildings. Despite numerous inquiries, the Neukölln district office did not say which schools were affected. However, a spokesperson confirmed that “in individual cases” there is still weakly bound asbestos in schools. However, this could not be released due to its obstruction situation.

The Reinickendorf district office said all schools had been vetted in the 1990s. At that time, loosely bound asbestos was “completely removed from all buildings in the district”. In February 2010, however, it became known that five schools in Reinickendorf had to be closed due to asbestos-containing window paper.

Karin Stolle, principal of the Jungfernheide school in Berlin-Spandau, discovered exposure to asbestos in her school only through an rbb24 research.  (Source: rbb)Karin Stolle, principal of the Jungfernheide school in Berlin-Spandau, discovered exposure to asbestos in her school only through an rbb24 research.

Almost all of the asbestos schools in the west of the city

BIM and district data on pollutant testing in Berlin schools show that the peak of asbestos exposure is significantly higher in the western part of the city than in the eastern districts: 43 affected schools are located in Steglitz-Zehlendorf alone, 44 schools in Berlin-Mitte, 37 in Tempelhof-Schoeneberg, 22 in Spandau and 16 in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. A large part of the 34 contaminated school buildings of the state-owned Berliner Immobilien GmbH (BIM) are also located in West Berlin. A spokesperson for the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district office said none of the schools contained loosely bound asbestos.

Spokesmen from the districts of Pankow, Lichtenberg and Marzahn-Hellersdorf also said that there were no parts containing asbestos in the schools. According to district information, two contaminated schools are registered in Treptow-Köpenick, but these only contained asbestos which was bound to them.

BIM and districts need to inspect buildings

State BIM and district offices, as building owners, are responsible for maintaining the school buildings. The Asbestos Directive requires them to carry out pollutant tests on contaminated buildings on a regular basis.

Depending on the location of the asbestos products, the use of space, the types of asbestos used or the surface conditions of the exposed components, points are awarded in pollutant tests. This shows when a building needs to be refurbished: long term, medium term or immediately. The number of points also determines whether owners need to double-check in two to five years if toxic asbestos fibers get into the air.

Staff shortages as an argument

Some counties have implemented the asbestos directive, others have not. Test data from the district offices of Steglitz-Zehlendorf, Mitte, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and BIM show that the affected schools were checked at the prescribed intervals. In Tempelhof-Schöneberg, however, according to the responsible district councilor Angelika Schöttler (SPD), several schools were not checked in time due to a lack of staff.

Carola Brückner (SPD), who has been the district mayor of Spandau since November, apologized when asked about the missed exams in 16 schools in her district: “I am very sorry. However, my office has now commissioned all the checks. external expert studies are necessary “.

Brückner described the risk potential for students, teachers and parents as “very low” as products containing asbestos “in the vast majority of cases” were not installed in classrooms but in technical rooms. Other district offices have made similar statements.

“Strictly no entry” reads a sign on a fire door in the school basement on the Jungfernheide in Berlin-Spandau. According to the district office, loosely bound asbestos was found in the basement. | Photo: rbb

Parents representative Heise: “We are worried”

Construction chemist Josef Spritzendorfer of the European Society for Healthy Construction and Internal Hygiene (EGGBI), on the other hand, is of the opinion that loosely bound asbestos should not be found in any school or daycare in Berlin. “Children run around the rooms during the break, dust with fibers and pollutants is thrown up. A much stricter guideline should be drawn up here,” says Spritzendorfer. “In the worst case, a single asbestos fiber can obviously become effective. That’s why loosely bound asbestos has virtually no place in schools and daycare centers,” says the construction chemist.

Even the chairman of the state parental committee, Norman Heise, has little understanding of the arguments of the district offices. “As parental representatives, we are obviously concerned if the authorities fail to fulfill their duties,” Heise said. “Especially when it comes to asbestos, we all know that it is fibers that are breathable and therefore need to be checked regularly.” Heise calls for greater transparency from the authorities. Because often neither parents nor teachers would know if and where there is asbestos in a school.

In the worst case, of course, a single asbestos fiber can become effective. That is why loosely bound asbestos has practically no place in schools and kindergartens

Josef Spritzendorfer, European Society for Healthy Building and Indoor Hygiene

The Senate has not yet achieved its goals

This transparency should have been established a long time ago. Already in 2016, the then red-red-green government had formulated the goal of making Berlin completely free from asbestos by 2030. To this end, an asbestos register had to be created in which all contaminated sites had to be documented. in the Berlin real estate park. The Senate wanted to establish a counseling center for those affected. So far none of this has happened.

For the spokesman for the Greens in the Berlin House of Representatives, Andreas Otto (Verdi), this is a disappointing result. “You can’t be satisfied. I was hoping for a lot more in the last term. We’ve actually extended the coalition again so that we can really do things that haven’t worked so far with more effort,” Otto said. “In a school, there are 20 children in a class, so we, as a public sector, have to ensure that they don’t poison themselves.”

Broadcast: rbb24 evening show, April 22, 2022, 7:30 pm

Contributed by Roberto Jurkschat and Ute Barthel

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