Recently, WESolicitors posted a news report on the discovery of significant quantities of asbestos in Cwmcarn High School, Caerphilly, Wales. As a result of the find, a temporary closure to the 900 pupil school and calls for a full investigation took place.
However, the asbestos discovery appears to have triggered two very different official responses, clearly emphasising the huge gap in asbestos awareness to the deadly health risks, which still exists in 2012.
The National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers have joined with Education Minister, Leighton Andrews, and Welsh Liberal Democrat leader, Kirsty Williams, to call for a full investigation and monitoring of all schools in Wales to determine asbestos dust levels in the air.
In an attempt to downplay the deadly health risks, Caerphilly Council issued their own statement, which according to construction union UCATT, is the most “outrageous thing ever seen” with regard to issuing “misleading” advice on the dangers of asbestos exposure.
In the statement, Caerphilly Council said that, “Short term exposure to asbestos is not considered to be harmful, but there may be harmful effects of very long term exposure.”
The apparent lack of real understanding of both the legal and medical view that even so-called ‘low-risk’ white asbestos (when left undisturbed) is still classified as a Class 1 carcinogen seems to echo the known attitudes of some company employers for much of the twentieth century until the first bans on the most toxic types of blue and brown asbestos were introduced in 1985.
Despite of overwhelming evidence that any initial inhalation of asbestos fibres can lead to the development of asbestosis diseases, the long gestation period means that asbestosis symptoms tend to only emerge after a period of between 15 to 50 years or more. In cases of the incurable, fatal cancer, mesothelioma, a confirmed diagnosis can too often only be made at an advanced stage of the spread of the cancer, giving the patient only months or weeks to live.
The issue of asbestos in schools has always been an ongoing problem on a national scale. Yet a recent survey of local authorities in Wales found that over 1,500 schools – a staggering 8 in 10 – were said to contain asbestos materials, which is 10 per cent higher than the national average.
UCATT confirmed they intend to urgently discuss the council’s existing asbestos policies and have also contacted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to raise their concerns over the incorrect and misleading advice being given to the local community.