A female college lecturer, aged just 60 years old, has become the latest tragic victim of malignant mesothelioma following her occupational exposure to asbestos at a school as recently as the 1990s.

In a statement read out at the inquest, the former psychology lecturer describes working in prefabricated college classrooms constructed from ‘dilapidated’ asbestos insulation board. The buildings, which were also found to be infested with rats, were eventually demolished by specialist contractors in 2004/5.

A ten year rise in teacher deaths

The premature death of yet another female teacher follows data recent obtained by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) under the Freedom of Information Act, which reveals a ten year rise in the numbers of school teachers who have died from mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos. Since 1980, a total of 291 school teachers have fallen victim to the incurable cancer of the lung linings and over 60 per cent of the deaths (177) have occurred since 2001.

In March 2015, following an eight month delay, the Department for Education published its long-awaited ‘asbestos in schools’ policy review, which disappointingly, seemed to do little more than acknowledge their asbestos awareness of so-called ‘low-risk’ chrysotile in schools while failing to show any in-depth knowledge or understanding of just how widespread the problem is right across Britain.

Four in ten schools built with asbestos

Between 1945 and 1975, more than four in ten schools built in England and Wales used insulating materials made from asbestos fibres. Constructed of prefabricated, light gauge steel frames with asbestos panels, which could be easily and cheaply built up to a maximum of 4 storeys, large quantities of asbestos were incorporated in a variety of locations, such as ceilings, partition walls, heaters, water tanks, pipes and window surrounds.

More than four decades later on and recent estimates suggest that three quarters of the 28,950 schools across the UK are likely to still contain significant quantities of asbestos. In some areas of Manchester and Wales, the figure could be as high as 90 per cent. Among the historical asbestos industry blackspots in the north of England an estimated 65 per cent of schools in Sunderland contain asbestos and across the entire region of Lancashire more 570 of the county’s 617 schools contain asbestos, according to figures released by Lancashire Council.

Justice Charter calls for national audit

The persisting problem of asbestos in schools, colleges and nurseries throughout Britain forms part of a Charter for Justice recently published by the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum (AVSGF). The Charter proposes a national audit of all schools “to identify the presence and condition of asbestos” and “a long term policy” for elimination from all schools.

Through the Charter, the AVSGF also calls for urgent reform in many key areas, such as a fairer Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme, which would help improve the quality of life for all victims of asbestos exposure as well as the 2,000 plus people who are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the UK every year.

Female under 65s death rate rise

In the last thirty years, the number of mesothelioma cases has risen in the UK by almost four-fold and there has also been a threefold increase in the overall female death-rate of those aged below 65 since 1970.

A 2013 report by HSE “tracing mesothelioma mortality between 1968 and 2011 also found that mesothelioma fatality rates in the 45-54 and 55-64 age groups, “have not reduced as strongly in women as in men.” Around a third of females who contract mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos either at work or environmentally, both of which have been responsible for the deaths of around 1,200 women since 2008.