Asbestos in UK Schools Is ‘A National Scandal’

Student with British Union Jack flag in background

Asbestos contamination in schools throughout the United Kingdom is “a national scandal,” according to one Member of Parliament who has asked for swift action to correct the growing health concern.

More than 140 teachers at British state schools died over the past decade from mesothelioma, which is caused almost exclusively by an exposure to asbestos fibers.

“Asbestos does not just harm, it kills, which makes it quite unbelievable that as a country we allow children and staff in schools to be exposed to it,” said Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, in a news release issued today. “Now is the time for the Government to stop burying its head in the sand.”

The Department of Education, in a report issued in 2011, estimated that 75 percent of schools throughout the country contain some level of asbestos, according to The Telegraph.

In 2010, the Asbestos Testing and Consultancy Association presented to Parliament a report that said the majority of schools, “are not managing their asbestos effectively, or safely.”

The Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health (PGOSH), which has no legislative power of its own, has outlined several recommendation that it has called on government officials to address, according to BBC News.

Among the recommendations are a detailed program for a phased removal of all asbestos, annual updates for parents, teachers and staff about asbestos in each school, and reinstating inspections of asbestos management.

“This is a national scandal,” said Jim Sheridan, MP and chairman of the PGOSH. “Urgent action is needed to prevent more pupils, teachers and other staff from being exposed to this deadly killer dust. We need far greater awareness of the risks that this material poses.”

The United Kingdom is one of more than 50 countries worldwide that has banned the use of any asbestos in new construction, but of what to do with older buildings that still contain asbestos remains a point of debate.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in Britain reports that the inhaling of asbestos fibers is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths (4,000) annually in the UK. Asbestos was used extensively in Britain from 1950 through the 1980s, and the country is wrestling with how to get it removed from residences and commercial buildings.

Asbestos is banned in the UK and in about 50 countries around the world (but not in the United States).

Of great concern is what effect the asbestos contamination will have on students in the schools, which has not been closely studied. The development of asbestos-related diseases can take anywhere from 10 to 50 years after exposure.

In addition to mesothelioma, asbestos can cause a wide range of respiratory problems, including lung cancer and asbestosis.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year in the United States, according to medical researchers. Although the cancer is rare, it is highly aggressive, and doctors are still searching for a cure.


Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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