Asbestos materials continue to be found in the fabric of school buildings, which is a pressing issue of concern due to government plans to transfer responsibility away from local authorities who help schools safely contain asbestos.
A latest news report adds fuel to the government proposals revealed early in 2012 over the ever-present dangers concealed asbestos fibres pose to pupils, teachers and school staff. Once asbestos fibres are inhaled they remain within the lung linings for up to 50 years before asbestosis symptoms become apparent. Affected cells can also develop into the fatal and incurable cancerous mesothelioma tumours.
Survey tests carried out prior to renovation at the premises of an old Belfast school building used as a private nursery at a distance away from the main school found a ‘high level’ of asbestos in a ‘damaged’ condition.
There is a high probability that the deadly material may have come to light when work was carried out in 2001 by The Public Health Agency. However, the school was only closed and the children removed ten years later, immediately following the tests.
The Public Health Agency state there is no immediate risk to public health although “… there’s the possibility that the children and the staff might have been exposed … those who are exposed to it for longer periods of time to higher levels are more at risk.”
Further extensive tests commissioned independently by the school over a two week period in each of the rooms and main hall did not find any ‘measurable’ level of asbestos.
In the post war period around 14,000 schools were quickly constructed, half of which were system-built using materials made from amosite and chrysotile asbestos fibres until a ban was put into place by the Control of Asbestos Regulations in the mid 1980s. However, the building industry still used white chrysotile asbestos fibres in their insulation wallboards, surface coatings and cement products until imports were banned in 1999.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), along with many other independent organisations continually campaign to raise asbestos awareness of the risks still present in hundreds of schools and which fail to comply with safety management. Between November 2010 and June 2011, a survey revealed that 28 schools, “were unable to produce and show inspectors asbestos management plans or neglected to provide adequate staff training”.
Between 1980 to 2005, mesothelioma is known to have caused the deaths of over 270 people who work in schools and the HSE report that some 2,000 cases of mesothelioma continue to be diagnosed in the UK every year.