Letter to the Times Regarding Asbestos in Schools and Mesothelioma

Schools and asbestos - government action still required

14.11.2008

Below is a letter sent to the Times, jointly written by:

John Edwards (British Mesothelioma Interest Group and Consultant Thoracic Surgeon at the Northern General Hospital)

Michael Lees (widower of mesothelioma/school exposure victim and asbestos campaigner)

Tony Whitston (Chair of Forum of Asbestos Victims Support Groups - UK)

Liz Darlison (Mesothelioma UK)

Adrian Budgen (June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund trustee)

Jill Morrell (British Lung Foundation)

A high proportion of schools were either built or refurbished using large amounts of asbestos and most of it remains to this day because of the government policy of management rather than removal. The Government has refused MPs' and teaching unions' requests to assess the risk and has refused to carry out a national audit of asbestos in schools.

The underfunding of school maintenance has allowed the condition of buildings and the asbestos within to deteriorate. Therefore, rather than the situation improving over time, it has worsened. In many schools it is just a strip of silicone sealant that prevents the release of dangerous levels of asbestos fibres into the classrooms.

At a recent meeting of the Asbestos Sub-Committee of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health, it was announced that the Schools Minister had refused the committee's request to reinstate a campaign to improve asbestos management in schools. It was therefore somewhat ironic that the chairman then stated that it is planned to close the Palace of Westminster, decant the MPs and remove the deteriorating asbestos. When it comes to preventing exposure to asbestos it appears that there is one rule for our legislators and another for our children.

The end result is that teachers and children have been regularly exposed to low levels of asbestos fibres, which cumulatively can cause the aggressive cancer mesothelioma. Due to the long latency period, statistics do not reveal the contribution of asbestos exposure in schools, for they only record the occupation at death.

If one considers the deaths due to other asbestos-related cancers, such as lung cancer, and asbestosis, asbestos kills per annum more people than road traffic accidents. Mesothelioma is difficult to treat and always fatal. However, despite its rapidly increasing incidence, it is the least researched of the UK's top 20 cancers, with little funding from Government.

We therefore call on the government to:

  • Carry out a national audit of asbestos in schools.
  • Assess the risks, particularly to children, and allocate funds in proportion to the risk.
  • Dedicate funding into research and treatment for mesothelioma through the National Centre for Asbestos Related Disease, which we propose.
  • Facilitate research to assess the risks of chronic, low-level asbestos exposure, particularly to children.