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The value of clearing asbestos from our public buildings - Clearing the Air Report 2023

A rapid removal of the extensive asbestos within our public buildings could benefit the UK economy to the tune of £11.6 billion. Not to mention, the human lives that could be saved from devastating asbestos related diseases. 

Towards the end of 2023, Mesothelioma UK published a report titled “Clearing The Air: The costs and benefits of removing asbestos from UK schools and hospitals”. 

The report compared two different asbestos removal plans. The first was the government’s current asbestos plan of leaving asbestos in place if it presents no immediate danger. The second was a rapid removal plan, which proposes to remove asbestos from all schools and hospitals over the next 10 years.

The report concludes that a rapid removal approach presents a huge benefit to the UK economy.  

The Report 

The report’s findings represent a fraction of the full impact of asbestos. It focuses on the development of mesothelioma or asbestos associated lung cancer from employment in schools and hospitals. This excludes diseases such as asbestosis or diffuse pleural thickening, exposure as a pupil or patient, or exposure in other public buildings from featuring in their statistics, which would likely amplify the cost associated with asbestos in their report if this information were available. 

Many schools and hospitals built after the second world war used asbestos in their construction due to its fireproofing capabilities. Much of this asbestos has remained present since. 

When these buildings have undergone work, renovation, or have generally deteriorated, the asbestos can be disturbed and released into the environment of the people working within it. 

A shocking number of schools and hospitals still contain asbestos. The report estimates that up to 19,400 schools (80%) in England could still contain asbestos. It also estimated that 94% of NHS Trusts have at least one hospital with asbestos still present. 

The number of people who have worked in these buildings over the years, potentially unknowingly being exposed to asbestos is immeasurable. 

The report uses benefit claim information and studies to estimate that each year there are 818 cases of either mesothelioma or asbestos associated lung cancer caused by occupational exposure in hospitals and 837 cases from schools. These are just the people working in the building, it does not include pupils or patients who may have also been exposed. 

These figures differ from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures, which show lower numbers than Mesothelioma UK. Mesothelioma UK noted that the HSE statistics have several drawbacks including:


  • Only showing deaths up to the age of 74, when at least half of mesothelioma deaths occur at age 75 or above;
  • Categorising deaths based on the person’s final occupation, so a person who worked as a teacher or nurse early in their career and switched is not included;
  • Excluding school workers who were not teachers, and hospital administrative, maintenance and cleaning jobs. 


Mesothelioma UK calculated that mesothelioma and lung cancer caused by exposure in schools and hospitals cost the UK economy just over £1.3 billion in 2023. This included factors from the cost of social care to the loss of tax revenue caused by a person’s inability to work. The estimated costs of the rapid removal of asbestos from school and hospitals is £4.5 billion. 

The report estimates that this rapid removal plan could benefit the UK economy in the sum of £11.6 billion over a 50-year period.


Human Impact 

It is often the human impact of these terrible diseases which is focussed on when petitioning the government. This report did an excellent job in addressing a common response: that the cost of removing asbestos is too much compared to the risks asbestos presents. 

It is clear that rapid removal of asbestos from our public buildings will benefit the economy whilst also saving lives. 

At Irwin Mitchell we also see a real human cost of asbestos remaining in public buildings. Whilst each claim aims to achieve financial compensation, we never lose focus on the very real human impact that these diseases have on a person and their loved ones. We approach each of our claims with compassion, listening to the individual impact on every client, so that we can represent them as a person and not just a case.   

We appreciate that some of our hospital or school exposure clients have dedicated large proportions of their life to their work and that it can be difficult to consider bringing a claim. If you want to know more about what the process looks like, then we welcome you to contact us for a confidential discussion. 

Contact us today for a free initial consultation.