Seven million school children under asbestos threat

Over seven million English school children are at risk of being exposed to asbestos, the deadly building material, according to new research by national law firm Stephensons.

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7,130,617 English school children are estimated to study in premises which harbour the deadly fibre, with around 86 per cent of all schools containing asbestos. Currently, there is no requirement for a school to notify parents when asbestos is found in their buildings.

The Committee on Carcinogenicity (CoC) has stated that exposure of children to asbestos is likely to render them more vulnerable to developing mesothelioma, a form of cancer, than adults.

The lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma is predicted to be about three and a half times greater for a child first exposed at age five compared to an adult first exposed at age 25 and about five times greater when compared to an adult first exposed at age 30.[1] There is currently no reliable screening test for mesothelioma and the early signs of the cancer are often missed.

The effective management of asbestos in schools is essential as children are particularly vulnerable to developing mesothelioma after being exposed. Currently, 80 per cent of the school stock is beyond its shelf life, and a significant part of the school estate is in poor condition and insufficiently maintained.[2]

The most recent mesothelioma statistics for the education sector show an increase in the number of school teachers dying from mesothelioma. 177 teachers died between 2002 and 2012. 291 have died between 1980 and 2012. Further to this, 16 educational assistants, eight school secretaries and eight nursery nurses and assistants died between 2003 and 2012.[3]

Problems with buildings where asbestos is present, such as roofs being damaged, rotten windows and damaged ceiling tiles, can allow asbestos fibres to be released. Asbestos can be disturbed simply by using drawing pins in the walls or disturbing contaminated dust on bookshelves.

When asbestos is disturbed, fibres are released into the air, becoming trapped in the lungs and leading to mesothelioma.

Asbestos exposure also causes asbestosis, an inflammatory condition affecting the lungs, which can cause shortness of breath, coughing, permanent lung damage and several other illnesses.

Kate Sweeney, Partner and personal injury solicitor at Stephensons 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 from asbestos exposure.”