Asbestos support groups up and down the country are taking part in this year’s Action Mesothelioma Day.
In Manchester, the event takes place on Friday 7th July and will be marked by the symbolic release of doves, in memory of those who have been lost to the dreadful disease. A public meeting is also being held with Professor Sir Newman-Taylor, head of the new National Mesothelioma Research Centre. In 2016, the Government provided £5 million of funding to help establish the centre at Imperial College London, however, campaigners believe this isn’t enough.
The British Lung Foundation estimates that research investment per death stands at £6,900 for leukaemia but by way of comparison, it is just £480 for mesothelioma. This is despite the fact that the UK has the highest mortality rate in the world for this asbestos-related cancer type. They point to the general increase in the number of people dying of mesothelioma every year, and around 60,000 people could die from the disease over the next 30 years. The charity is calling on the insurance industry to contribute towards research costs from existing reserves for future compensations claims.
We have recently heard the tragic news that mesothelioma sufferer Kirsty List has died. Kirsty, who featured in an earlier blog post about this year’s Global Asbestos Awareness Week, believed that she inhaled asbestos dust whilst studying at college. Our thoughts are with her family and friends.
Focus on asbestos in schools
The campaign to remove asbestos from our educational establishments continues to gather pace and this year, the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) is holding its first ever national conference on 4th July 2017. The conference will welcome speakers including Rachel Reeves MP - chair of the asbestos in schools group - plus asbestos campaigners, trade unions, medical practitioners, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Department for Education (DfE). School governors are encouraged to attend the event in Birmingham.
What is the current position?
The DfE has issued guidance on where asbestos may be found in schools and how to manage it, conceding that the majority of school buildings do indeed contain it. The HSE have also provided a guide giving tips on how to spot asbestos materials and what to expect from a specialist survey.
Where the material is in good condition and unlikely to be disturbed, such guidance seeks to reassure us that it does not create an exposure risk. For example, an asbestos cement roof is unlikely to be disturbed however, if a classroom has asbestos wall panels the material would be much more likely to be disturbed by desk movements, poster displays and so on. It is perhaps shocking to learn that until as recently as 1999, materials containing asbestos could still be used in construction projects. The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 place a legal duty on schools to assess the risks arising from the presence of asbestos. If present, a management plan is required to regularly monitor its condition and to make sure that all staff and contractors are made aware.
The JUAC is campaigning for a phased removal of all asbestos from our schools by 2028. They report that around 320 teachers have sadly died from mesothelioma since 1980 and it is claimed that for every teacher death, there could be 20 to 30 pupils who go on to suffer from it during adulthood. Despite the clear statutory framework, they maintain that staff are often not told where the asbestos is located. Campaigner Lucie Stephens lost her mother Sue, a primary school teacher, to mesothelioma in 2016. The coroner recorded that she died from an industrial disease due to being exposed to asbestos at work. Lucie’s petition for the removal of asbestos from schools can be found here.