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Asbestos in schools

HSE's policy on the management of asbestos is currently being challenged in relation to asbestos in schools. It is estimated that around 75% of schools in England may contain asbestos.

Source: ARCA News, Autumn 2013, Issue 82, Page 19

Private individuals, trade unions and the Asbestos in Schools Group (which has the support of a number of MPs) have been calling on the Department for Education for some time to remove all asbestos from school buildings.

In 2012 the Asbestos Subcommittee of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health published a report "Asbestos in Schools: The need for action." This called for more action to manage the risk from asbestos in schools. Publication of the report triggered the Education Select Committee (ESC) to hold a one-off inquiry into asbestos in schools in March 2013. HSE provided support to the Education Minister for the hearing. The ESC has not yet produced a report of its inquiries.

As part of its consideration of the issue, the Department for Education asked the Department of Health's Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COC) to consider the vulnerability of children to low level exposure to asbestos fibres. HSE was one of the organisations asked to provide information. We provided the COC with a view on the likely concentration of asbestos in schools, summarising peer reviewed published data to provide an informed estimate of the average airborne asbestos fibre concentrations in buildings during normal use.

The COC report concluded that it was not possible to say whether children were more susceptible to asbestos related injury. However it acknowledged that, due to the increased life expectancy of children compared to adults and the long latency period of mesothelioma, children are more vunerable to developing the disease than adults on an equivalent dose basis - this issue is well understood by HSE.

The Asbestos in Schools Group has expressed concerns regarding the outcome of the COC report and the ESC hearing. HSE is continuing to provide support and advice to the Department for Education on the matter.

The profile of this issue was raised by the closure of Cwmcarn High School by Caerphilly County Borough Council in October 2012 following receipt of an "asbestos investigation report" from a survey company on the potential for the asbestos fibres to be released from debris in the ceiling voids into the occupied areas of the school. The findings of the investigation report were questioned by some, and after a period of many months, we understood the Borough Council and the school Governors have agreed a package of measures to deal with the asbestos in the school. HSE carried out an investigation of the circumstances leading up to the school closure which will be made available to interested parties.

Source: ARCA News, Autumn 2013, Issue 82, Page 19

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