Mesothelioma from working at schools
A leading Newcastle personal injury law firm has backed calls for a complete survey of asbestos in all UK schools.
Lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have urged education authorities to take the threat of asbestos more seriously, after the settlement of a case involving a Northumberland teacher who died after being exposed to asbestos at the school at which she taught.
Patricia Cameron taught at Otterburn First School for five years from 1974 and developed the disease Mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos, found in lagging in the school’s boiler room, which she used to visit regularly to hang children's clothes to dry.
Following her death in 2004, her family instructed Newcastle personal injury law firm Irwin Mitchell to pursue a compensation claim against Northumberland County Council. The case was recently settled without an admission of liability from the council, which has nevertheless agreed an undisclosed compensation package.
Experts at Irwin Mitchell have now supported demands by a leading teachers' union for a thorough audit of the safety of all school buildings – and the removal of all asbestos from schools by 2010.
Lucy Proctor, solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, represented Mrs Cameron's family, said that it took a worrying amount of time for the asbestos to be fully removed from the school. During her investigations as part of the case, it was revealed that asbestos was still present in the school as recently as 2006.
She added: "Despite what happened to Mrs Cameron, there was still asbestos present in the school as recently as two years ago. We need to see a firm plan of action to ascertain how much asbestos is in schools and to set clear targets for its removal."
Mrs Proctor said asbestos should not be treated lightly as mesothelioma could be caused by modest exposure to the substance.
"Mesothelioma is typically associated with occupational exposure to asbestos in industry but sadly the numbers of people from other sectors who are developing the disease is increasing all the time." she added.
"Mrs Cameron was still working as a teacher when she began to suffer symptoms and would return from work complaining of breathlessness, but at the time, neither she nor her family were aware of her exposure to asbestos, or Mesothelioma and the devastating effects it can have. She died 25 years after the exposure to asbestos ended.
"Although Mrs Cameron suffered surprisingly heavy exposure, Mesothelioma can develop as a result of only slight exposure to asbestos – it has been known, for example, for the families of industrial workers to develop the disease as a result of handling their asbestos dust - covered clothing.
"People need to remember that it is not just industrial workers that may be affected, and the recent Union calls to survey all UK schools for asbestos underlines this point. Unfortunately, Mesothelioma develops over time and the number of cases is expected to continue rising.
"While we are pleased with the settlement, made without an admission of liability from Northumberland County Council, no amount of money can ever compensate Mrs Cameron’s family for the loss of their mother."
Evidence at her inquest revealed that Mrs Cameron’s asbestos exposure was at levels associated with people who had worked in industry, but there was no indication that she had been exposed to asbestos dust other that during her employment as a teacher with NCC.