An asbestos awareness campaigner has warned that between 200 and 300 children will have their lives shortened due to the policy of leaving asbestos in place in schools.
Speaking to MPs at a Commons Committee, Charles Pickles said the UK has one of the worst asbestos legacies in the world.
Of the more than six million tonnes of asbestos remaining in public buildings in the UK, much of it is contained in educational and health facilities. A total of 305 teachers were confirmed to have died from mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, between 2001 and 2016, but the true number is thought to be much higher, according to the campaign group Airtight on Asbestos which Mr Pickles founded.
Primary school teachers are around five times more likely to die from asbestos-related conditions than their peers, its research showed.
Mr Pickles said: “Exposure to the substance cuts short the lives of 200 to 300 school children each year. Despite this, the government is in denial. Other countries have far better procedures for measuring and managing the handling of asbestos in public buildings. It is time the UK caught up.”
The Work and Pensions Committee was told that exposure to asbestos mainly affected people who had worked directly with asbestos, such as in heavy industry or construction, but that this is changing.
Joanne Gordon, chairwoman of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups’ Forum UK, said: “We are seeing more people with low-level exposure to asbestos. We see a change in occupation, we are seeing more women diagnosed with mesothelioma.”
“This is alarming, because female primary school teachers never worked with asbestos. They have merely worked in buildings containing asbestos.”
Mr Pickles said he was particularly concerned about so-called “CLASP” schools, prefabricated schools built between the 1950s and 1970s that contain substantial amounts of asbestos. Around 3,000 are still in use in the UK
Campaigners are calling on the UK to abandon its policy of “management in situ”, where asbestos is left in place as long as it is not damaged or disturbed, and introduce phased removal. This is because they say much of the UK’s asbestos is now in a “dilapidated condition” and releasing fibres into the air.
Mr Pickles added: “The risks are increasing with age rather than decreasing.”