Parents reassured over school asbestos

EXPERTS moved to reassure parents last night after figures revealed that almost every school in Suffolk contains asbestos.

Anthony Bond

EXPERTS moved to reassure parents last night after figures revealed that almost every school in Suffolk contains asbestos.

Figures released to the EADT by Suffolk County Council show that 330 of the county's 355 schools contain the potentially dangerous substance.

The NASUWT - which is campaigning for the removal of asbestos in all schools by 2012 - last night said it would be seeking assurances from the authority that teachers and pupils were not at risk.

However, Suffolk County Council said its schools are “perfectly safe environments” and there is no need for concern.

But Keith Anderson, national executive member from the Nasuwt in Suffolk, said he was worried.

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“The worrying fact is that so many of our schools in Suffolk contain asbestos. There is no safe level of exposure to it, teachers and pupils are all at risk. Asbestos is a killer. It is the biggest workplace killer in the UK and in ageing schools it has a hidden deadly effect.

“I wonder how many teachers and parents are aware of the levels of asbestos in their schools and there is evidence which shows that children are more susceptible than adults. The trouble is that asbestos is something which takes an awful long time before the symptoms are noticed.”

At least 178 teachers nationally died between 1980 and 2005 from asbestos-related disease and an unknown number of children could fall victim in later life, claim the Nasuwt.

Although asbestos is not harmful unless it is damaged or located somewhere where it can be easily damaged then it will not be a risk.

But the concern is that the potentially lethal fibres can be released by pupils banging a door or window, or knocking on a classroom wall.

Former East Anglian teacher Carole Hagerdorn, 58, is dying from asbestos-related disease mesothelioma, contracted after working in schools for 34 years.

Speaking about the Suffolk figures, she said: “The figure confirms the worst of the teaching associations and myself. I think it is very worrying, I do not want people to suffer the diagnosis that I have had, but I am afraid that they will until this stuff is taken out.

“Teachers are just the tip of the iceberg because for every teacher there is a classroom full of kids.”

Suffolk County Council said it carries out an asbestos risk assessment on behalf of each school and draws up each school's asbestos register showing the location of asbestos and its level of risk.

It said information contained in each schools asbestos register is described in bands from very low up to high. The authority said any medium or high risk cases identified are dealt with immediately.

Ian Brown, head of schools infrastructure at Suffolk County Council, said: “There is no need for anyone to be concerned about the fact that asbestos is located in many of our buildings, including many of our schools. Asbestos is present in lots of buildings around the country. That doesn't mean that it represents a danger to the public.

“To ensure there is no serious risk to anyone entering any of our buildings, we have made detailed inspections and compiled risk registers of each and we know precisely where the asbestos is located. This is a requirement for all public buildings and all business premises that might be accessed by members of the public. Having this information, we can give assurance that our schools are perfectly safe environments for our children and young people, the school staffs, parents and visitors. Indeed, the Health & Safety Executive have commended the effectiveness of our management and monitoring procedures. "