It has been reported that asbestos is present in over 80% of schools in Derbyshire, a figure that illustrates the prolific use of the substance in recent decades. Asbestos was only banned in the UK in 1999, which leaves any building constructed prior to this time likely to house asbestos-containing materials.
Of the 413 schools in Derbyshire, 335 of them were found to contain asbestos following a Freedom of Information request sent to the county council. Local campaign groups are calling for more to be done to remove asbestos from schools. Joanne Gordon of the Derbyshire Asbestos Support Team commented:
“This is the tip of the iceberg as to how many children have been affected by asbestos from their schools. There is still a lack of awareness about the dangers of asbestos and just how easily asbestos can become damaged and therefore become dangerous.”
How children might be affected by asbestos at school
Asbestos is not thought to be a serious threat if it remains in good condition and is not disturbed. The problem in schools around the country is its widespread use in partition walls, ceilings and lagging for pipe work.
There have been several cases recently where teachers have suffered mesothelioma, an aggressive type of lung cancer attributed to asbestos exposure. Simply by pinning children’s artwork on partition walls containing asbestos, the teachers released and subsequently inhaled deadly dust and fibres.
The concern is that the nature of the school environment and damage unwittingly caused by children during their day-to-day movements around the building, places them at specific risk of exposure.
Asbestos eradication law proposed
A spokesperson from Derbyshire County Council was quoted as saying:
“While we’re confident that the amount of asbestos is being reduced we cannot determine if schools will become asbestos free because it is only removed when identified as a potential problem.”
So this suggests that the main problem is a lack of strategic planning to remove asbestos from schools, and there have been many calls for action to be taken in this respect.
In fact, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Safety and Health has already proposed a bill to eradicate asbestos from all educational buildings by 2028. They suggest that a formal survey be carried out on all buildings by a qualified surveyor, in order to identify if and where asbestos is present.
The group has also called for the process to be overseen by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to ensure compliance, and correct adherence to health and safety guidelines surrounding asbestos removal.
Parents not informed when asbestos is present
Currently there is no obligation for a local authority to disclose to parents the fact that asbestos has been found in a school. In fact, over 44% of teachers do not even know whether asbestos is present in their workplace according to a survey carried out by the National Union of Teachers.
Worryingly, a third of respondents also reported that an incident had taken place at their school that could have resulted in exposure to asbestos fibres.