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Schools need lessons on Asbestos Danger

26 June 2013

Asbestos is present in a large number of our schools across the UK. Asbestos was widely used in the construction and redevelopment of schools following World War II. Asbestos in schools was used up until the mid 1970’s, even though the awareness of potential health implications was known. Asbestos was widely used for lagging pipe-work, and in ceiling panels, partition walls, sprayed insulation on ceilings / walls and indoor heating systems. A large number of temporary classrooms, which were still in use into the early 1990’s, also contained asbestos within the walls and ceilings.

Today asbestos is a well known hazardous substance but the reality is that most of the asbestos in schools remains in place. The asbestos is now old and much is deteriorating releasing potentially dangerous asbestos fibres into the environment. Occupants of schools, including children, are at risk of being exposed to asbestos fibres from the simple act of attending school.

Recent research from the Government’s Committee on Carcinogenicity has suggested that children as young as five may be more susceptible to developing mesothelioma from cumulative background asbestos exposure in schools because they will live longer and thus allow the mesothelioma more time to develop.

Following the Second World War, Britain was the largest importer of asbestos in the world. There is strong evidence that this is the cause of Britain having one of the highest mesothelioma rates in the world, with someone dying from the disease every five hours.

The HSE and the Department of Education have criticised the government’s lackadaisical approach to manage rather than remove asbestos from schools. However the government maintain that if asbestos is in good condition and likely to remain undamaged or undisturbed, it is safer to leave it in place than the process of removing it. This is contrary to the approach taken in Australia, where a government policy of seeking to remove asbestos whenever possible is now under way.

The Asbestos in Schools Group includes amongst its members Michael Lees, whose wife worked as a teacher for 30 years and subsequently contracted mesothelioma. They argue that the system of asbestos management and removal in schools is not of an adequate standard and in some cases is either ineffective or non existent.

The problem of asbestos in schools was illustrated in late 2012 when Cwmcarn High School in Caerphilly, South Wales was closed whilst the authorities investigated asbestos in the school. The school remains closed and is hoping to be reopened in September 2013. Information requested from Warrington Borough Council earlier this year has also revealed that 72 out of 90 primary and secondary schools in the area contained asbestos. A spokesman for Warrington Borough Council confirmed that the presence of asbestos in schools in not uncommon and Warrington is no different to many other areas across the UK.

According to figures from the Health and Safety Executive, 128 school teachers died from mesothelioma between 2002 and 2010 in the UK but it is argued that this figure does not even come close to the reality of the situation. The Asbestos in Schools Group has claimed that this figure underestimates the true scale of mesothelioma deaths among teachers because it does not include those aged 75 and over.

The National Asbestos Helpline has helped a number of mesothelioma victims who have come into contact with asbestos through their work in schools to obtain very significant compensation. We have helped teachers, caretakers and cooks.

The National Asbestos Helpline can assist you with an asbestos claim if you have been harmed from exposure to asbestos in schools.


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