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Part of "Information on asbestos in schools"

Primary school teacher died from asbestos related cancer.
Majority of primary teachers' schools contained asbestos. My wife died from mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is almost exclusively a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos,1 and is always fatal. I have attempted to determine why my wife was killed by asbestos. She was a primary school teacher who’s contact with asbestos appeared to be no more than any other woman of her age. I have looked back over the whole of her life, including her thirty year teaching career. As the investigation progressed one common factor kept appearing which was that in the five independent schools and more than eighteen state schools that she taught in, the majority contained asbestos in one form or another.
Types of asbestos used in schools

A High proportion of our present schools contain asbestos. In 2004 the HSE gave an idea of the extent of asbestos in schools:

“Of the approximate 20,400 primary schools and 3,400 secondary schools in the UK, some 13,000 were built between 1945 and 1974, when the use of ACMs (Asbestos Containing Materials) in building was at its peak. Many other school premises would have been refurbished during or since that period, providing the potential for the introduction of ACMs e.g. lagging, ceiling panels, partition walls, sprayed coatings. This suggests that a high proportion of our present schools contain asbestos and represent the potential to release deadly fibres.” 2

Much of that asbestos remains to this day. All types of asbestos were used in a huge variety of applications; for walls, ceilings, suspended floors, acoustic insulation/ attenuation, fire insulation, loft insulation, damp insulation, storage heaters, pipe/boiler lagging, roofs, window sills, guttering, floor tiles, doors, blackboards3 , banisters and sanitary-ware amongst many other applications.4 By 1976 approximately 5,000,000 tons of asbestos had been imported into the United Kingdom.5 There are three types of asbestos that have been used commercially, crocidolite, amosite and chrysotile, all of them have been used in schools.

Crocidolite. Crocidolite was used for most applications either loose, sprayed or contained in building boards and sheeting.6 Loose crocidolite was used as loft and floor insulation. Until 1962 it was the most common sort of asbestos sprayed on columns, beams and the underside of roofs as fire protection, acoustic, thermal and damp insulation, it continued to be sprayed to a lesser extent until 1971, however other kinds of asbestos continued to be sprayed until 1974. The boards were used for heat insulation, and fire protection, being either millboard or insulating board (AIB). As a cloth the asbestos content was about 100%, and it was used for thermal insulation, curtains, oven gloves, fire blankets, aprons and lagging. In one year alone 500 tons were used in the manufacture of cloth.7 Crocidolite was also manufactured into asbestos cement used for roofs, walls, guttering, drinking water pipes8 and cisterns, windowsills, worktops and draining boards. Because of its particular resistance to chemicals it was commonly used as a work surface in school chemistry and biology classrooms 9. In 1964 alone 3,500 tons were used in asbestos cement products 10. Its use in millboard continued until 1965, in cement products until 1969, and in lagging until 1970. (NB: Crocidolite was first used in millboard in 1896)

Amosite. Amosite was widely used in many similar applications including, lagging, thermal slabs, and blocks, some of which contain 85% amosite. It was used for thermal insulation including sprayed coatings, 7000 tons being applied in 1964 alone 11. It was extensively manufactured into insulating boards used in classroom ceilings, interior walls, acoustic attenuators and fire doors. Amosite was used to produce about 130 million square metres of Asbestos Insulating Board12 .As a cloth the asbestos content was about 100%, and it was used for thermal insulation, curtains, oven gloves, fire blankets, aprons and lagging. It was also used in a wide variety of asbestos cement products including roofing, worktops, water-pipes, cisterns, window sills, draining boards, tiles, roller skating rinks, fencing etc. In one year alone 1000 tons were used in the manufacture of moulded plastics 13 used for, batteries, banisters, lavatory seats etc. Its use in manufactured products continued in this country until 1980 or 1983, 200,000 tons being imported just between 1954 and 1963 14. Its importation was not prohibited until 1985 15

Chrysotile. Considerably more Chrysotile was imported into this country than the others kinds of asbestos, and it was used in most of the applications that the others were, being the most common type used in asbestos cement products. However in addition it was also used in asbestos cloth, ropes, asbestos paper, felt, cardboard and tape, thermoplastic and PVC flooring and underfelt for carpets and linoleum. Its use in mastics and floor tile cement ceased in 1992. Ceiling finishes such as Artex contained asbestos and were applied until 1984, and its use in roofing felt ceased in the same year. Its widespread use in cement products and car/lift/machinery brakes, fan belts and clutches continued until 1999. Its use is still permitted in certain applications including gaskets and washers. 16

Asbestos cement. Difficulty in visually identifying type of asbestos. It is normally difficult to determine the type of asbestos contained in a material by visual examination. It can be identified by expert sample analysis or else identification can be made if the date of manufacture, the identity of the product and the name of the manufacturer is known. I was told by one headmistress that her school was safe as it only had asbestos cement roofs which did not contain the harmful kind of asbestos 17. This is a popular misconception that asbestos cement is “Safe” as it only contains “White” asbestos. Asbestos cement can be easily damaged, and as it weathers it releases considerable quantities of asbestos fibres, this is relevant with roofs as the asbestos precipitates out on drying, however considerable numbers of fibres are also released from drinking water cisterns and water pipes.18As an example of its use it is known that the water supply pipes for some RAF married quarters were asbestos cement 19. The asbestos in asbestos cement products is most likely to be chrysotile, but as has been seen many thousands of tons of crocidolite and amosite were also used. Chrysotile is less dangerous than the other types of asbestos, but it can still cause mesothelioma 20, it is often contaminated by tremolite, which has an even greater propensity in causing the disease 21. As has been seen above some asbestos cement contains purely amosite and crocidolite, and it is difficult to tell which it is by appearance alone

Asbestos Use in Workshops and Laboratories
Asbestos was used in school workshops, laboratories and home economics classrooms in the form of asbestos wool, heat mats, paper, bunsen burner tape, fire-blankets, saucepan stands, hair dryers, ironing boards, and asbestos sheeting, all of which was either man handled, heated, abraded, cut or drilled. Crocidolite, amosite and chrysotile were used in the manufacture of fire blankets, curtains, gloves and aprons until 1960, after that the vast majority used was chrysotile. Students cut and drilled asbestos cement sheeting in school workshops 22. The asbestos cement sheeting, draining boards, ironing boards, saucepan stands and extraction hoods were manufactured with all types of asbestos until 1969. Crocidolite in particular was used in chemistry and biology laboratory work surfaces because of its particular resistance to chemicals 23. Amosite and chrysotile were used until 1980, and chrysotile alone until 1999. Although all kinds of asbestos were used in asbestos cement products chrysotile was the most common kind. Crocidolite and chrysotile were used in radiators, boiler, oven, furnace and flue sealing until 1970 although only chrysotile has been used since then 24.
1966 Department of Education Knew of the Dangers but Allowed its Continuous Use
In 1966 the Department of Education (DES) were made aware of the dangers of asbestos by the Head of the Medical Inspectorate of Factories who specifically advised them that asbestos wool and sheeting should no longer be used in school science laboratories and workshops 25. However against his expert advice it was not banned, indeed DES publications were still recommending its use in school workshops in 1968 26. Eight years later in 1976 they acknowledged that asbestos continued to be used in craft, science, home economics, car maintenance and building classes 27. In 1986 they again acknowledged that it remained in use in vocational and higher education establishments workshops, and in addition its use continued with fire blankets and as insulation in pottery furnaces 28.The relevant Department of Education files have been obtained from National Archives, and copies of the Factory Inspectorate reports have been made available. The involvement of the Department of Education, the Factories Inspectorate and the HSE are detailed in a separate paper that will be released later.
Precautionary approach advocated by Factories Inspectorate - Preventative measures must be taken

The Factories Inspectorate report of 1966 acknowledged that more research and epidemiological studies had to be undertaken over many years before many of the answers could be provided about asbestos. They gave a warning that in the interim a precautionary approach had to be adopted:

“Of necessity, preventative action must precede absolute proof of the relative hazards of different sorts of asbestos……... While such studies are proceeding the only safe course is to eliminate the escape of asbestos dust into the air.” 29

As has been seen this was precisely the approach that the Factories Inspectorate recommended to the Department of Education, and yet they chose to ignore it.

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