Asbestos removal closes school
Asbestos is a potentially lethal material that was used extensively in the building industry from the 1950s to the mid 1980s. Serious lung diseases such as cancer and mesothelioma can be attributed to the inhalation of asbestos fibres, which sometimes may not be diagnosed until 20 to 40 years after coming in to contact with asbestos.
Although asbestos is not harmful if undisturbed, should the material become damaged or broken then the asbestos fibres can become airbourne, and inhaled by people in the vicinity. If levels are high enough and for a long enough period, then asbestos related diseases may develop. This is an extremely problematic scenario, as asbestos can be found in a variety of places such as in the lining of walls and ceilings, floor tiles and garage and shed roofs. This can easily be disturbed by activities such as DIY.
Asbestos removal can be expensive. It is however recommended that it is removed by an expert to prevent potential exposure. Whilst being removed it is important that the asbestos remains intact and in some cases the air is monitored for traces of asbestos. In recent years, many workplaces, hospitals and educational establishments have found asbestos in their premises. A school in Northamptonshire which decided to carry out routine rewiring in 2003, had to halt works after asbestos was found within the walls and floor tiles of the building. After inspection by an independent asbestos consultant, the entire school was immediately closed. After extensive sampling it was found that the school building had become contaminated with asbestos fibres. The decontamination of the school took several months and meant that the entire school had to begin the new term in temporary classrooms. The clean up bill for the school totalled £4.35 million, which had to be paid with help from the local council.
The Asbestos Training and Consultancy Association has expressed concerns regarding asbestos removal and the failure of some schools to meet health and safety rules on the management of the substance. The government guidelines on asbestos state that where possible the asbestos should be left in place. However, the Asbestos Training and Consultancy Association have stated that in many of the schools they inspected, the asbestos was damaged and potentially dangerous.
Between 1991 and 2005 figures from the Health and Safety Executive have reported that 228 teachers died from asbestos related illnesses, including a foreign language teacher from Essex who underwent extensive chemotherapy treatment after being diagnosed with mesothelioma. Incidents such as this have lead to the main teaching unions to call for an audit of asbestos danger in schools. Chris Keates, head of the NASUWT teaching union, said local authorities and governing bodies were not taking issues linked to asbestos seriously enough and were failing to comply with their statutory responsibilities.
With up to 70% of schools containing asbestos (according to a BBC Radio 4 report in 2009), it is clear that there is still much work to do before they can all be classed as being free from asbestos.