Funding is at the root of the asbestos that lingers as a silent killer in approximately 86% of UK schools. The question is, which schools are safe?
The findings of a recent National Union of Teachers (NUT) report revealed alarming discoveries that parents, school teachers, and the public simply cannot ignore.
44% of survey respondents had not been told whether their school contains asbestos. This statistic is refers to the parents, teachers and staff unaware that approximately 86% of UK schools contain asbestos.
More than 80% of respondents said that parents had not been given information about the presence of asbestos and how it is managed, raising the question of why reporting is not mandatory as it is in the USA. Of the respondents who knew that their school does contain asbestos, just over a third reported that there had been an incident which may have led to exposure to asbestos.
The lack of awareness of the effects of exposure to asbestos is an epidemic that sees hundreds of thousands of victims diagnosed with Mesothelioma every year.
A report on Asbestos in UK schools published last year revealed asbestos hazards in 20 UK schools.
A Matter of Funding
The expenses of asbestos removal has seen West Kidlington primary school in Oxfordshire unable to afford the costs of demolishing temporary classrooms known to contain the carcinogenic substance.
The school have been unable to replace their four 50-year-old classrooms and applied for funding under the Government’s Priority Schools Building Programme, (PSBP)only to be turned down for the £500,000 needed to remove the asbestos in order to demolish the buildings.
A policy review published by the Department for Education revealed that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) considered schools a low-risk environment for asbestos, stating:
“Requirements for managing asbestos in buildings are much more rigorous than in the past and the asbestos levels found in the past and the asbestos levels found in the ambient air of schools during normal occupation are likely to be lower than in the past. A recent study of the number of asbestos fibres found in lung samples suggests overall levels of asbestos exposure are decreasing in the general population.”
Exposure to disturbed asbestos has serious consequences such as lung cancer, Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. To think of the risk of a carcinogenic substance being disturbed in a place like a school is, frankly, frightening. Campaigners promoting the awareness of the global epidemic of asbestos disagree entirely, considering schools a different environment and circumstance when containing asbestos to that of an office. The potential for disturbing the asbestos, or a child uneducated on the severity of asbestos’ incredibly dangerous properties, make its existence in schools beyond doubt an issue to be addressed by the Government.
West Kidlington primary school educates 400 young pupils, employing several staff, all of whom are spending at least five days a week in the vicinity of asbestos in the temporary classrooms. A warning in one of the classrooms states: “Warning: Encapsulated Asbestos. Do not cut or make fixings without proper authority and precautions.”
But West Kidlington is not the only school in the UK facing the silent but real threat of asbestos upon their staff and students. Nearly all of the 14,000 schools built in the UK between 1945 and 1975 contain asbestos. The use of asbestos in commercial buildings was common until 1999.
I have represented clients affected by asbestos in schools including a caretaker who contracted Mesothelioma and died as a result of asbestos in the school he worked in. It’s truly heart-breaking to think that this is not a historical problem but one that is still with us affecting teachers, other staff and pupils. As a mother of young children this is also of great personal concern to me – we shouldn’t be putting our children at risk in this way.
Kim Harrison is a Principal Chest and Asbestos Disease Lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
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