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Mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure.
My wife died aged 51 of mesothelioma. She had been a primary school teacher for thirty years and had taught in five independent schools and more than eighteen state schools, the majority of which contained asbestos. Mesothelioma is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos and is always fatal.
Teachers and pupils exposed to asbestos
A detailed investigation has been carried out that has discovered evidence of asbestos exposures of my wife throughout her thirty year teaching career, the evidence also shows that other staff and children were exposed. In one school that my wife taught in all the classrooms contained asbestos insulating board, which contained amosite. It was damaged on a daily basis for many years while the classrooms were occupied.
Typical exposure
I believe that my wife’s exposure was typical of a primary school teacher of her age.
Schools contain large amounts of asbestos
Asbestos was widely used in the construction of schools particularly during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The asbestos has been damaged over the years through fair wear and tear, accidental damage, maintenance work and vandalism, consequently fibres have been released. Much of that asbestos remains in place to this day.
Asbestos was used in school workshops and laboratories
Asbestos was used in school laboratories, workshops and domestic science classes. Amongst other applications, this was in the form of bunsen burner stands, wool, cement sheeting, ironing boards, gloves and fireblankets, all of which were either heated, manhandled, cut or abraded. This would have released asbestos fibres.
Vulnerability to mesothelioma varies
A person’s susceptibility to developing the disease varies considerably, and given the same exposures only a small percentage of people will develop the disease. It is not known who are the most vulnerable.
All types of asbestos used in schools
All types of asbestos were used in schools. Chrysotile (white asbestos) is dangerous, Amosite (brown asbestos) is 100 times more dangerous and Crocidolite (blue asbestos) is 500 times more dangerous.
Cumulative low level exposures cause mesothelioma
There is no known threshold for the number of asbestos fibres that can cause mesothelioma. However the chances of developing the disease are greatly increased by large exposures and cumulative low level exposures
Children most vulnerable.
If a child and an adult are exposed to the same amount of asbestos then the child is far more likely to develop the disease than the adult. If a child of 5 and an adult of 30 are exposed to the same amount of asbestos over the course of a year, then the child is three and a half times more likely to develop mesothelioma by the age of 80 than the adult.
Long latency
The latency period from the first asbestos exposure to the appearance of the symptoms of disease is from about ten years to over sixty. Latencies of less than fifteen years are unusual, and latencies of between 20-40 years are common. It must be stressed that these latencies are from the first exposure to asbestos, and any subsequent exposures have a cumulative effect. In theory a single asbestos fibre can cause cell mutation, subsequent fibres also cause mutation and in addition decrease the body’s ability to fight the development of cancerous cells. Each small exposure therefore increases the likely-hood of a cancerous tumour developing.
Lack of asbestos management
Amongst the schools that my wife taught in the standard in the management of asbestos ranged from reasonable to non-existent. At least four of the schools had no asbestos management plan and were unaware of the existence and whereabouts of asbestos. One school had no idea that any asbestos existed at all, let alone that every ceiling, wall and radiator contained asbestos. Because of this maintenance staff, teachers and children inadvertently damaged the asbestos and released asbestos fibres on a regular basis over many years.
America took effective measures in 1979.
Since 1979 the American Government has taken practical steps to ensure the safe management of asbestos in their schools. Whereas in this country we have failed to protect our teachers and children. As a direct result of the actions, and lack of action, by the HSE and the Department of Education, teachers, ancillary staff and children have been exposed to asbestos in schools and many have died as a result. The Department of Education and the Health and Safety Executive have failed in their duty.
Statistics show an unexpectedly high death rate among teachers from mesothelioma.
. HSE statistics show that there are an unexpectedly high number of deaths in the teaching profession from mesothelioma. HSE statistics list mesothelioma deaths under 200 occupations which show that between 1980 and 2000 female school teachers had the fourth highest number of deaths from mesothelioma. Female teachers had the fourth highest Proportional Mortality Ratio (PMR) because of their number of deaths from mesothelioma. The only occupations with a higher PMR were Foremen/Labourers, Textile workers and Sewers/Embroiderers.
In a profession where there should be little or no asbestos exposure, teachers have been exposed to significant levels of asbestos.
In the teaching profession one should expect little or no asbestos exposure, and the PMRs and the number of deaths from mesothelioma should reflect the fact, however the opposite is so. The number of deaths and the high PMRs amongst teachers demonstrates that they have been exposed to significant quantities of asbestos, with the consequence that they are dying from asbestos related cancers.
Female teachers’ Proportional Mortality Ratio twice that of nurses
Among female occupations one would consider that nursing and teaching should be comparable in the context of asbestos exposure. However, although the number of deaths in each group is on par, the teacher’s PMR is twice as high. It can therefore only be concluded that female teachers have been exposed to considerably more asbestos than female nurses have.
Significant deaths among male teachers
The numbers of mesothelioma deaths amongst male teachers is also significant. It must therefore be concluded that both male and female teachers have been exposed to significant quantities of asbestos.
Children exposed to asbestos
Children are particularly vulnerable to asbestos exposure. The HSE will not give an estimate of how many children have, and will, die from mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure at school. However if teachers are being exposed and dying then so are their pupils. Any subsequent deaths among the pupils will happen once they have left school and the statistics will record the death under their final occupation and not as the result of asbestos exposures that first occurred at school. There are considerably more children in a school than there are teachers, and given the number of teachers who have died from mesothelioma, it can only be concluded that a significant number children are exposed to asbestos at school and die as a result.
This paper.
This paper is specifically about the deaths from asbestos amongst teachers, ancillary staff and pupils. It is based on the investigation into my wife’s death and the far wider issues that this has raised. The paper has been written after taking expert opinion and after researching articles from acknowledged expert sources. There has been considerable correspondence with the HSE, part of that correspondence has been to establish their policy on asbestos in schools. The HSE recently provided me with my wife’s file under the Public Interest clause of the Freedom of Information Act. This gives a valuable insight into HSE thinking and decision making. HSE statistics have been used to assess the scale of the problem of asbestos in schools and relevant extracts are included. This paper is part of a larger document which gives more detail of the various issues covered in this paper.

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