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Release of asbestos fibres

Acnowledged by Authorities

Part of "Information on asbestos in schools"

Asbestos fibres released
For many years asbestos was used in school laboratories , workshops and domestic science rooms. It was cut, drilled, manhandled and heated and consequently would have released asbestos fibres to be breathed in by the pupils, teachers and ancillary staff. In addition considerable quantities of the Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs) were used in the construction of school buildings where they remain to this day. Over the years they have been damaged through fair wear and tear and vandalism, in addition exterior ACMs have deteriorated through exposure to the elements 30. Building and maintenance work has also damaged the ACMs, and such activity can release considerable quantities of asbestos fibres 31. It is also frequently overlooked but the simple act of handling, dropping or hitting AIB can release high levels of asbestos fibres 32. Although the front of the panel might be painted or encapsulated it is most unlikely that the reverse face and sides will be, therefore fibres released will accumulate in any void and eventually filter through any cracks or openings
Lack of asbestos management allows fibre releases in schools
Many schools have not had adequate systems to manage their asbestos, some have not even been aware of the whereabouts or extent of asbestos in their premises. One of my wife’s schools was not even aware that any asbestos existed at all, let alone that every classroom, corridor and hall ceiling was AIB which contained amosite. The column panels were asbestos, and all the storage heaters contained asbestos. There had been constant leaks which had involved structural work to the roof and girders and the complete replacement of the flat roof which contained asbestos 33. One winter the hall roof and ceiling collapsed under the weight of snow and had to be rebuilt 34. Maintenance and building work was carried out while the classrooms were occupied and storage heaters were dismantled and removed by “men in space suits” while the classrooms were occupied. Because the building and maintenance work was not carried out under controlled conditions significant quantities of asbestos fibres would have been released. The HSE consider that exposures from maintenance work is the most likely cause of mesothelioma in a school. 35
“Asbestos in schools generally not in good condition.”
An asbestos surveyor told me that, in all the years that he had been in the business, he had only been asked to survey one independent school, and in that one school the ACMs were not in a good condition. In the state schools that he had surveyed about half of the asbestos was not in a good condition, especially where AIB was used as pin-boards 36. Another surveyor stated that there is a lot of asbestos in schools and it is generally not in a good condition, in one school the asbestos cladding on a steel column had been badly damaged with compass holes 37. A manager of an asbestos removal firm told me that the AIB in a local school was in a dreadful state with some AIB walls kicked in 38. The practice of kicking AIB is highlighted in the HSE document “Asbestos –an important message to schools.”39 The HSE provided me with a report that pupils in a school were “kicking the asbestos dust around like snow unaware that the dust on the floor was dangerous.”40 These cases match all the other evidence, and I have no doubt that they are not isolated cases. It is clear that asbestos fibres have been released in schools. In some cases low levels of fibres have been released but this has happened frequently and over the course of many years. Sometimes the fibre releases have been considerable. The HSE acknowledge that school caretakers have been identified as a particular group at risk from asbestos exposure 41. However in addition teachers, ancillary staff, and children have been exposed, some of them over the course of many years. Some have died and many remain at risk
Schools’ Minister “Asbestos has not always been dealt with in a professional manner.”

The Minister of State for Schools wrote to the General Secretary of the NUT and stated:

“Asbestos in schools has not always been dealt with in a professional manner.” 42

Significant minority have still not established complete control of asbestos

The HSE Head of Asbestos Policy confirmed this view by stating:

A High proportion of our schools contain asbestos and represent the potential to release deadly fibres.…. Whilst many authorities have been managing their asbestos risks effectively for many years, HSE believes a significant minority have still not established complete control of asbestos on their premises.” 43



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