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Asbestos lawyer shocked by scale of asbestos still in schools

Recent BBC programme highlights the ongoing danger posed by asbestos in schools

Primary school

22 December 2016

Asbestos lawyer Vijay Ganapathy is concerned about the amount of asbestos still present in schools and public buildings.

The use of asbestos in the construction of schools in Britain peaked between 1945 and 1975.  Although asbestos use in Britain was banned in 1999, asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are still present in many schools and other public buildings constructed or refurbished before 2000.  

The scale of the problem was recently highlighted by the BBC article which reported that asbestos is known to be present in at least 12,600 council-run schools in England, and that, over the last decade, local councils have paid out compensation in excess of £10 million to people who have developed asbestos related illnesses from exposure to asbestos in schools.  

Between 1980 and 1985, an average of three teachers died each year from mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused by the inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibres.  According to the HSE, in 2012 alone, that figure rose to 22.  

Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases take several decades to develop. The earlier in life a person is exposed to asbestos, the greater chance that they will develop an asbestos-related disease in their lifetime.  

While children are not necessarily more susceptible to mesothelioma, their young age at the time of exposure does mean that their risk of developing the disease within their lifetime is greater when compared to an adult exposed at the same time.  

Given that mesothelioma can arise after exposure to even a very small number of fibres, there are legitimate concerns that concealed asbestos in schools poses a potential risk.  Normal school activity (for example slamming doors, displaying artwork, and hitting walls) release asbestos fibres over many years without anyone realising.  

This was demonstrated last year by the death of a primary school teacher who developed mesothelioma after decades of pinning and stapling her pupils’ schoolwork to asbestos boards in her classroom.  

The Department for Education accepts that the majority of schools in England contain asbestos.  While they admit that the exact amount of asbestos is unknown, they contend that its presence does not pose a significant risk if it is undamaged and managed safely.  

Campaigners would like to see the phased removal of all asbestos from schools.  There are reports that the asbestos found in schools is often in a bad condition through lack of maintenance or wear and tear, that it is unsealed and hidden, and that teachers are often not even aware of its presence.

Specialist asbestos lawyer at Leigh Day, Vijay Ganapathy, said:

“Given the universal acceptance that only a small amount of asbestos can cause mesothelioma, it is surprising that not more is being done to prevent harmful asbestos exposure in schools.  It is even more shocking that this failure means young children are being placed at risk.”

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