Asbestos in Schools  
Update 127
9 March 2013

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1. Education Select Committee hearing

At 10 am on 13th March the Education Select Committee is taking evidence on asbestos in schools.

Michael Lees is giving evidence and says: “This is an excellent opportunity as it will bring the extent of the asbestos problem in schools into the open and allow MPs to examine Government policies.” -

The Asbestos in Schools Group (AiS) has called for openness and a review of Government policies. 
They recommend that:

  • A policy of openness should be adopted. Parents, teachers and support staff should be annually updated on the presence of asbestos in their schools and the measures that are being taken to manage it.
  • Data on asbestos in schools should be collated on the Asset Management System as part of DfE’s Property Data Survey Programme, so that the overall scale of the problem is known, financial forecasts made and those schools and local authorities with the worst asbestos problems can be identified and targeted. 
  • Standards in asbestos training should be set and the training should be mandatory. The training should be properly funded.
  • Pro-active inspections to determine the standards of asbestos management in all schools should be reinstated.
  • An environmental airborne fibre level should be adopted for schools
  • A trial of widespread air sampling for schools is commissioned.
  • The Government should set a programme for the phased removal of asbestos from all schools, with priority being given to those schools where the asbestos is considered to be most dangerous or damaged.
  • A comprehensive review of government policy on asbestos in schools is carried out. The review has to be independent of the government. It is therefore considered that the Education Select Committee is the ideal body.

The witnesses are Schools Minister David Laws MP, David Ashton Director of Field Operations Directorate HSE. Professor Julian Peto, Chair of the Joint Union Asbestos Committee Julie Winn, Roger Leighton, Headteacher, The Sydney Russell School, Dagenham and Michael Lees.

The committee will:explore the issues raised with interest groups, experts in the field and individuals with direct experience of the problem. This will be followed by evidence from the Schools Minister and the HSE on relevant Government policies.”

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 2. Council in court for ignoring asbestos threat in school

 Thurrock Council has been fined £35,000 and ordered to pay £15,326 in costs for ignoring the asbestos hazard in a number of their schools.

After the Court passed sentence HSE inspector Samantha Thomson, said: “This was a clear example of a local Authority failing to manage asbestos across its schools for a number of years. “At Stifford Clays Junior School, the caretaker regularly worked in the boiler room with dust and debris over a period of six years. She will have been exposed to asbestos fibres and now faces an anxious wait to see if it results in any long-term health issues. “Thurrock Council was informed of the potential for exposure in 2004, yet failed to act on the knowledge until HSE’s involvement some six years later.” HSE Press Release

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3. Cwmcarn High School remains closed after asbestos contamination identified.

Cwmcarn High School was closed in October when Caerphilly council received a report from asbestos consultants that identified damaged asbestos insulating board (AIB) and amosite fibres in classrooms.

One of the main buildings, “A,” block was built in the 1950s and contains significant amounts of asbestos insulating board (AIB) in places vulnerable to damage by the occupants. Amosite fibres have been identified in classrooms and the stairwell. There is widespread AIB debris in the ceiling void and, because of leaks in the roof, a number of ceiling tiles have fallen into the rooms so that there is the potential for the contamination to enter the classrooms. Some of the warm air cabinet heaters contain AIB debris, unsealed and damaged AIB panels. Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) tests have confirmed that amosite fibres are released from the heaters.

There remains the potential for occupants of “A” block to be exposed to asbestos fibres. Although there is a debate over the extent of the risks, there is general agreement that it was the correct decision to close the school. The decision now about what to do with “A” block must be primarily based on what is safe for the occupants. Children are involved, and they have spent, and will spend long periods of time in this building. If there remains a difference in opinion about the risks then the Precautionary Principle must be followed as the staff and children’s safety has to be paramount, so that the measures taken must ensure that there is no further potential for asbestos fibre release.

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4. Warm air cabinet heaters can potentially release asbestos fibres into the classrooms.

In 1982 warnings were first issued about warm air cabinet heaters and the potential for amosite fibre release, but that guidance had not been followed at Cwmcarn school. Warm air cabinet heating was one of the most common forms of heating schools and therefore AiS has asked the Department for Education to issue a warning about the heaters to all schools.

 In a parliamentary written answer the Minister  stated that “The investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the situation at Cwmcarn is still under way and it is appropriate to wait until they have concluded their investigation and reported before deciding what action, if any, DfE should take.”

Follow these links to the warnings that were first given about this type of heating more than thirty years ago. HM Chief Inspector of Factories (in1981), HSE (in 1982). The level of fibres sampled in 1982 was 0.025f/ml or 25,000 fibres in every cubic metre of air. A person inhales about 20 cubic metres of air a day .There is no known threshold exposure to asbestos below which there is no risk and therefore the cumulative exposures of the occupants of the rooms could be considerable.

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5. School teachers and support staff  deaths from mesothelioma

The latest mesothelioma occupational statistics have just been published. 128 school teachers died of mesothelioma in the nine year period 2002-2010. School teachers are dying at a rate of more than 14 a year from mesothelioma. Female primary school teachers are dying at a rate considerably above the “average” for all occupations. Teaching assistants, school secretaries and nursery nurses are also dying of mesothelioma.

The statistics list cleaners, caretakers and cooks as generic occupations and do not separately list those who worked in schools, but it is known that they have also died.

The numbers of teachers dying from mesothelioma is greater than the statistics show, and possibly significantly greater, as the occupational statistics do not list deaths over the age of 75, and it is known that teachers have died over that age.

Signed: Michael Lees

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Authoritative research can be seen at http://www.asbestosexposureschools.co.uk/; that is closely referenced with sources, has a search facility so you can find your specific interest and can be quoted. You can also contact us as shown below

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CONTENTS
1. Education Select Committee Hearing Asbestos in Schools - 13 March
2. Council in Court for ignoring Asbestos Threat in School
3. Cwmcarn School remains closed after Asbestos Contamination Identified
4. Warm Air Cabinet Heaters in Classrooms can Potentially Release asbestos fibres - Warnings dating to 1982 ignored

5. Latest Statistics of Teachers and Support Staff deaths from Mesothelioma are of concern.

 

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