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Toxic classroom scare in Midlands

NURSERY and primary school children are being exposed to potentially deadly chemicals in their classrooms.

A shocking new study has found the level of harmful materials was ‘‘significantly higher’’ in schools than in the home or office.

The chemicals can potentially damage the liver and thyroid - and can even cause cancer.

Scientists from the University of Birmingham measured the amount of the harmful persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in settled dust in 20 nursery and primary school classrooms in the West Midlands as part of the study.

The POPs are commonly used in wall insulation, electronics and fabric coating in products like flame retardant curtains.

Young children are more at risk from the POPs because they ingest more of the dust by putting their hands in their mouths more often than adults. They are also nearer to the floor where concentrations of dust are higher, and are more susceptible to them as their bodies are still growing.

Dr Stuart Harrad was part of the team who produced the research.

“The concentration is very high,” he told the Sunday Mercury.

“These compounds can cause problems within the neurology of youngsters or in the liver or the thyroid.

“Schools should try to keep dust levels down as there will be less chance of children ingesting it.”

Despite concerns over the dangerous chemicals, there is still no government advice on what is a safe level of exposure.

“There are currently no set guidelines as there is not enough research into this area,” added Dr Harrad.

“I think that is the right way for the government to go as more work is required.”

Last year the Sunday Mercury told the story of Midland grandma Margaret Worthington.

It is thought mum-of-three Margaret, now in her 70s, contracted the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma when working as a teacher as the noticeboards she pinned her pupils’ work on contained fibres of the deadly substance.

Teachers unions say more must be done to protect its members and pupils.

National Union of Teachers Midland regional officer Tony Pearce said: “We are very concerned about this news.

“Children and teachers spend a lot of time in this environment and if there is a significant risk, we would want action taken.

“When the problem of asbestos first appeared people said it was used in lots of things and it would to hard to get removed, but if the risk is there it must be dealt with.”

jonny.greatrex@sundaymercury.net