Schools & Asbestos – Lessons To Learn
February 18, 2019
Asbestos in public sector buildings isn’t a surprising headline. The use of carcinogenic mineral-based material in what feels like it could be every public building construction project from the 1950s to mid-1970s is widely reported. The NHS estate, in particular, London hospitals, came under the spotlight in 2017 and all UK health trusts received the same scrutiny surrounding Asbestos within their estates in 2018.
This month the spotlight has turned to Education Trusts and their extensive estates that, not unlike UK hospitals and healthcare facilities, feature buildings therein that are currently reaching the end of their life cycle resulting in delapidations if repairs, refurbishment or demolition and reconstruction do not proceed.
A FoI (Freedom of Information Request) to Birmingham City Council by the BBC this month uncovered the fact that 161 of the 192 schools the council is responsible for has the potential to contain Asbestos. That’s a staggering 80%, though the commission has urged caution and makes the point that any building constructed before the year 2000 can potentially contain Asbestos.
Akin to the NHS Estate and UK health trusts councils and education boards now have the problem of an ageing stock of buildings constructed before the year 2000. While statements are made repeatedly that “any asbestos is relatively harmless if left undisturbed” it is impossible to repair, refurbish or demolish any of this stock without disturbing the Asbestos used in the original construction. This situation creates a significant risk to those working on construction or demolition and any general public in the vicinity.
It is also notable, similarly to reports regarding Asbestos in NHS facilities, that there are claims of cases of Asbestos-related illness by users of Asbestos containing education buildings. Furthermore, the national education union claims that at least 319 school teachers have died from mesothelioma, cancer caused by Asbestos dust inhalation, since 1980. The union goes on to claim that of these 319 deaths 205 have been since the year 2000.
Also this month, in an article concerning Scottish schools, the Guardian quoted a report by Clydeside Action on Asbestos (CAA), a Scottish campaign group campaigning for families with asbestos-related diseases, that claims 200 to 300 people, who have been exposed to Asbestos in schools, die each year.
At present, the CAA is trying to have Asbestos removed from around 1,600 school and university buildings by lobbying the Scottish government and have recently been given more power to their elbow with the publication of a National Audit Office report which finding Asbestos was a “potentially dangerous issue” in most schools.
Where the funds for possible asbestos removal in schools will come from, if it is forthcoming, remains unclear. Though campaigners are quick to remind governments, the issue is a hot topic that needs addressed post haste not least because children have a much higher risk of developing mesothelioma if exposed to Asbestos dust than adults.