Asbestos in schools has been the topic of longstanding debate between campaigners who want it removed completely, and others including government ministers, who insist it is safe to be left if intact.
Unfortunately for tradespeople and school maintenance workers, it is unlikely that schools built prior to the asbestos ban of 1999 will be free from the substance. Asbestos was a widely-used component in building and other materials, largely because of its low cost, but also its fireproofing and insulating properties.
If you are a tradesperson, or likely to carry out work on an educational establishment that might disturb the fabric of the building, what do you need to be aware of?
Science and cookery classrooms
Asbestos was commonly used in school laboratories and classrooms for home economics. It may be present in fire blankets, heat mats, bunsen burner tape, ironing boards, and stands for saucepans.
Worktops in chemistry and biology laboratories often contained asbestos, as did draining boards and extractor hoods in home economics classrooms. Apart from these specific subject-related items, general use of asbestos included partition walling, lagging for pipes, flues and boilers, as well as ceiling and floor tiles.
Crocidolite (blue asbestos)
Crocidolite not only provided resistance to extreme heat, but also tolerated most of the chemicals used in school laboratories, which made it a common addition to laboratory work surfaces and sink areas.
This type of asbestos was used as loft and floor insulation in its loose (and most dangerous) form – usually 100% asbestos. It may be found in asbestos cement products, insulating boarding, sprayed coatings, and also in oven gloves, aprons and fire blankets.
Widely used in general construction materials, you may come across crocidolite within guttering, downpipes, cisterns and window sills.
Amosite (brown asbestos)
There was widespread use of asbestos insulating boarding, or AIB, in school buildings, largely to provide thermal and acoustic insulation, and protection from fire. You may find amosite in the ceilings, partition walls, and also in fire doors.
The Asbestos in Schools Group state that around 130 million square metres of asbestos-insulating board was manufactured using amosite, with 7,000 tonnes of the substance being used as sprayed coatings in 1964 alone.
Amosite was also incorporated into cement products to manufacture roofing materials, fencing, tiles and work tops.
Chrysotile (white asbestos)
Chrysotile asbestos was used more than amosite and crocidolite, and was not banned in the UK for certain products until 1999. In school buildings it may be found in all of the products previously mentioned, but because of its composition it was also used to make felt, paper, cardboard, tape, ropes, cloth and underfelt.
Being a member of the Serpentine asbestos sub-group, chrysotile fibres are softer and more flexible than amosite and crocidolite, which are classed as amphiboles. Textured decorative coatings, such as Artex, contained chrysotile until 1984.
Asbestos awareness training provides in-depth knowledge on where asbestos may be located within our older buildings, and can offer you the protection you need to stay safe.