specifically excludes asbestos from audit of school
The Government has specifically excluded
asbestos from an audit of the cost of maintaining, refurbishing or
replacing school buildings although asbestos potentially causes the
greatest risk to the occupants and can be the greatest cost in
maintaining or refurbishing a school. The audit
(page 8 of link) will gather information on the cost of “storage
tanks and equipment, gas distribution, ventilation, air
conditioning, fire alarms, intruder alarms, toilet fittings and
plumbing, lifts and hoists, external and internal decoration...etc”
and assessments will also be made of the risks they pose. It is
therefore illogical, financially irresponsible and dangerous to
exclude asbestos. (Follow link to AiS
response to consultation)
An internal Department for Education e-mail confirms that the
reason asbestos is excluded is because of the financial
implications. The e-mail states: “There will be pressure for the
lobby for our new school buildings survey programme to look at
asbestos, but it cannot do so given the cost
2. Minister: Deaths and Secret Cost Benefit
Members of the Asbestos in Schools group (AiS)
had two meeting with Nick Gibb MP when he was in Opposition. The
basic principle of risk management was discussed - which is to
assess the scale of the problem and the risks so that priorities can
be set and sound financial forecasts made. AiS informed him that
successive governments had refused to undertake an audit of the
extent of asbestos in schools or the risks it poses because of a
fear that if parents knew they would “panic” and demand the removal
of all asbestos from schools, which would be exceedingly expensive.
He stated “one cannot sweep the problem under the carpet... one
cannot shut one’s eyes to the problem.”
He was informed that 228 teachers had died of mesothelioma and
that, based on US estimates, more than 2,000 people could
subsequently die from their asbestos exposures experienced as
children in UK schools, but because of the long latency they would
die in their middle age. He was informed that the cost of
solving the problem would be considerable. He responded by saying
“You are telling me that I will have to cripple the Education
budget to save the lives of a few thousand middle aged people.” His statement brutally illustrates that a proper cost benefit
analysis must be carried out to identify the way forward. That must
clearly be based on a proper assessment of the scale of the problem
and the risks. The assessments and the decision making should be
open and transparent as the conclusions will affect teachers,
support staff and children’s exposure to asbestos fibres and their
risk of dying from such exposure.
Unfortunately now that Nick Gibb is the Minister of State for
Schools he is not doing what he promised. He has specifically
excluded asbestos from the audit of school buildings. In addition,
although he has authorised an assessment of the risks to children,
he appears to be attempting to influence the decision making
process. For instance papers submitted by Government Departments and
agencies to the Government’s scientific and medical committees are
unbalanced and misleading.
It also looks as if he has carried out a cost benefit analysis in
secret, without proper evidence, and has decided that it is
potentially too expensive to deal with the problem of asbestos in
schools just to save "the lives of a few thousand middle aged
people" . He appears to be attempting to conceal that
3. Government agencies provide misleading data to
scientific and medical committees
Government’s advisory committee on science, WATCH, spent almost four
years discussing the risks of low level exposure to asbestos they
did not assess the risks to children. They should have as, at the
first meeting, a committee member stressed the importance of
childhood asbestos exposure and the significantly greater risk it
poses. Because of this failure AiS asked the Prime Minister, the
Department for Education and the HSE to task them. They did not and
would not examine it.
In order to put the risks to the occupants of buildings
containing asbestos into context WATCH
(para 3.29 and 3.30 asked HSE/HSL to
summarise the knowledge it has on airborne levels of asbestos in
buildings” para 4.49(iv)
summary HSE provided WATCH is flawed, unbalanced and misleading.
It excludes relevant material and contains irrelevant material. For
- The only two levels included in the summary of UK buildings
were exceptionally low and unrepresentative of tests that had
shown serious problems of asbestos fibre release in schools.
- One level had been obtained from offices in an office block,
where the activity, condition and cleanliness were not
representative of a typical school.
- The other series of tests were carried out in seven schools to
test the effectiveness of work that had specifically been carried
out to prevent the release of asbestos fibres from columns, walls
and ceilings into classrooms.
- The HSE summary is profoundly misleading as it excludes all
the data that had precipitated the tests and the remedial action.
- The data that is excluded is from 1987 when it was discovered
that dangerous levels of asbestos fibres can be emitted into
classrooms of potentially thousands of schools from the simple
action of slamming a door or hitting a wall. In some schools it is
probable that this had been happening since they were built in the
- The problem was never dealt with so that the occupants
continued to be exposed to asbestos.
- The summary also excludes all the data from 2006 when it was
rediscovered that slamming doors hitting classroom walls and
columns and sitting on window sills can release dangerous levels
of asbestos fibres.
- The summary also excludes the data that shows the
remedial action in some schools failed to prevent the release of
- The summary gives exceptionally low asbestos fibre readings
for the “Personal sampling of school children.”
It does not, however, say that this reading was inevitable because
“material containing asbestos was not found in any of the
buildings.” It is unethical and deceptive not to make
it clear that the data is entirely irrelevant to children’s
contamination in school buildings that do contain asbestos.
- Having included irrelevant data the summary excludes relevant
data of dangerous levels of asbestos fibres emitted from ducted
warm air heaters commonly used in thousands of UK classrooms.
- It excludes data that shows that taking books out of a
classroom stationary cupboard or displaying the children’s work
with drawing pins can release cumulatively dangerous levels of
asbestos fibres that are inhaled by the school staff and school
4. Department of Health Committee: Increased risk
to children from asbestos exposure.
flawed HSE paper was provided to the Committee on Carcinogenicity
(COC) as a basis for their assessment of the relative vulnerability
of children to asbestos.
As WATCH had not been tasked to assess the risk to children from
asbestos, AiS proposed that the Department of Health (DoH) should.
Consequently the first of at least two meetings of the DoH Committee
on Carcinogenicity took place on 12th January 2012 to assess
“the relative vulnerability of children to asbestos.” There
was agreement that children are significantly more vulnerable to the
dangers of asbestos because they will live longer for mesothelioma
Worryingly it was also highlighted that scientists do not know
whether children’s susceptibility to asbestos is increased because
of their physical immaturity. The reason is that the subject has not
been properly studied. This lack of scientific research seems an
unforgivable lapse given the prevalence of asbestos in most British
schools and many homes, and the fact that forty five years ago the
Department for Education were specifically warned of the particular
increased risk to children from asbestos.
HSE attended as expert advisors and briefed the members of the
COC using their misleading summary of fibre levels. It was apparent
that the committee were left with the incorrect impression that
asbestos fibre levels in schools are exceptionally low – despite
authoritative evidence showing that in many schools the opposite is
The conclusions of the Committee on Carcinogenicity will be used
as a basis for future decisions and Government policy that directly
affects the number of school teachers, support staff and children
who will be exposed to asbestos fibres. Those decisions have
to be based on the best evidence, but Government Departments and
agencies, including HSE, are attempting to influence decisions
by putting “spin” on scientific data. That is unethical. A
formal complaint has been submitted to the Minister.
to the Asbestos in Schools submission to the Committee on
Carcinogenicity that examines the extent of asbestos in schools and
the risks to staff and pupils now.