More than seven million schoolchildren are learning in asbestos-riddled classrooms which could significantly increase their chances of developing mesothelioma or respiratory problems in later life.
New research has revealed that the Home Counties are the most deadly areas in the country outside London, with more than 200,000 children at risk in Kent alone.
In the capital a shocking 1.2m children attend schools that contain asbestos, according to figures obtained from a Freedom of Information request (FOI).
However, despite the clear health dangers schools have no obligation to tell parents whether or not there is asbestos present on the premises.
Asbestos law specialist, Kate Sweeney said: “Many people still think that asbestos is only a threat to factory or trade workers and this simply isn’t the case. The deadly material has been used in all types of buildings since the 1950s and is still present in the majority of schools in the UK due to ageing stock.
“These figures are very concerning and the fact that parents have no right to be notified, even more so.
“Asbestos can be easily disturbed with a simple pinprick of the wall when hanging up children’s artwork and have a long term effect on the health of anyone exposed.
“These findings make a clear case for parents to have better access to information on the measures being taken by local education authorities and schools to protect their children.”
Areas of the country where successive Governments have invested heavily in new school buildings, including many northern cities, have noticeably lower numbers at risk.
However in other places, run-down 1960s buildings have seen their shelf lives repeatedly extended by struggling local authorities. As a result, in the three counties of Kent, Hertfordshire and Essex, more than half a million children are studying in potentially lethal conditions.
Health experts have warned that children exposed to asbestos at the age of five are three-and-a-half times more likely to develop the deadly cancer mesothelioma than an adult first exposed at 25.
Shockingly, 177 teachers died from the disease between 2002 and 2012. It is estimated that 80 per cent of Britain’s school buildings are currently falling below par in terms of condition and need replacing imminently.
Michael Lees, 67, founder of the campaigning group Asbestos In Schools, said: “We expose a large number of children to asbestos in schools and this is contributing to the terrible death toll.
“Successive governments brushed this under the carpet because the disease can take decades to develop.”
Mr Lees, a father of two, from Hardsworthy, north Devon, lost his wife Gina, a primary school teacher, in 2000 when she died aged 51 from mesothelioma.
He said: “We accept removing asbestos from all schools can only be done over a long period.
“We believe the Government should adopt long-term policies to eventually eradicate all asbestos from schools.”
Latest figures show 2,535 deaths a year from mesothelioma in Britain, the highest rate in the world and more than all UK road deaths. Of these 300 are attributed to schools.
Despite the potential dangers, Professor Julian Peto, one of the country’s leading experts on asbestos, said removing all asbestos from schools was not an option as it would “only save” around 25 lives a year in 50 years’ time when the eventual effects of asbestos on pupils will emerge.
He said: “You cannot rebuild all the schools in Britain to prevent about 25 deaths a year.
“These are deaths that will occur predominantly over the age of 70.
“You have to remember that is the effect of childhood exposure.”
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