Schools Asbestos Problem Revealed

Asbestos in Schools


A national newspaper has highlighted a potentially fatal problem facing thousands of UK schools.

The Daily Mail points to the "significant amounts" of asbestos to be found in most of the country's 24,000 schools which can lead to the aggressive cancer of the lung lining, mesothelioma.

The article's author, Keith Shadwick, reveals that experts predict up to 90,000 people could die from mesothelioma over the next decade.

"Its rising incidence is being linked to the proliferation of asbestos in office, school and domestic building programmes in the late Sixties," Mr Shadwick wrote, adding that the gestation period of the cancer is usually between 30 and 40 years.

Insurer Norwich Union estimates that a considerable amount of the six million tonnes of asbestos imported into the UK is still in place in buildings including homes, schools, hospitals and offices.

The Health and Safety Executive has issued guidance for schools on how to identify and manage the threat from asbestos. It says that the most likely way asbestos-contaminated materials can be disturbed or damaged is through maintenance, repairs or construction.

It warns that the person responsible for the building's maintenance has a duty to be aware of whether the premises contain asbestos; if so, where it is; and to ensure that it is properly managed.

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Adrian Budgen from law firm Irwin Mitchell said: "The scale of the problem is, like the illness itself, literally breathtaking. The Daily Mail article is especially poignant because the author, Keith Shadwick, is himself suffering from mesothelioma. Keith is bravely battling the disease, having undergone radical surgery last year.

"Michael Lees is quoted in the article; he is perhaps the UK's foremost authority on the issue of asbestos in schools. Michael's wife, Gina, was a primary school teacher and, very sadly, died of mesothelioma 7 years ago. Michael has done a great deal of painstaking research, over the last few years, and has become a leading asbestos campaigner.

"Kevin Walkin (head of the HSE's Cancer and Asbestos Unit) and Barry Fawcett (Assistant Secretary, and head of health and safety, at the National Union of Teachers) are all giving presentations on the subject of asbestos in schools at an open technical seminar, organised by Asbestos Testing and Consultancy (ATaC) in London, on Wednesday 9th July."