Asbestos In Schools A 'National Scandal', Say MPs
The presence of killer fibre asbestos in the majority of British state schools constitutes a "national scandal", MPs said on Wednesday.
A report published today by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health looked into official figures showing more than 75% of state schools are exposing children, teachers and other staff to the carcinogenic material.
It comes after more than 140 teachers died from the rare asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma in the past 10 years, with research in the US suggesting over 100 people will die every year in the UK because of exposure at school.
The parliamentary group, which has no powers of its own, has called on the Government to introduce a programme to clear the material from schools.
Commenting on the report, chairman of the group Jim Sheridan MP said: "This is a national scandal. Urgent action is needed to prevent more pupils, teachers and other staff being exposed to this deadly killer dust.
"We need both far greater awareness of the risks that this material poses and a programme for its phased removal."
Last year the Department of Education revealed that its "best estimate" is that over 75% of schools contain asbestos.
Researchers in the US found that for every death of a teacher from asbestos-related diseases, nine children will die. Children are more vulnerable because they have longer than adults to develop diseases related to the material.
According to the Health and Safety Executive asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with 4,000 people dying every year after it was extensively used as a building material from the 1950s until the mid-1980s.
Aside from mesothelioma, which is always fatal, the fibre causes diseases which range from lung cancer (almost always fatal), asbestosis (not always fatal but debilitating) and diffuse pleural thickening (non-fatal).
Other recommendations in today's report include annually updating parents, teachers and staff about asbestos in their schools, and reinstating inspections into asbestos management.
A Department for Education spokesman said: "The health and welfare of pupils and staff is absolutely paramount.
"It is unacceptable for any school not to comply with the strict statutory asbestos guidance - no ifs or buts. We fully back the HSE in taking robust action against any school for not fulfilling their legal duty.
"HSE's expert advice is based on the best current evidence. It is absolutely clear that if asbestos is not disturbed or damaged, then it is safer to leave it in situ, with strong systems in place to contain and monitor it."