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Are your children at risk of asbestos exposure in school?

(20 Posts)
Lucienne1 Mon 13-Jun-16 15:12:18

My Mum is dying from mesothelioma. We believe this is because she was exposed to asbestos as a teacher. We are very sad and very angry as a family. This is made worse by knowing that every day children and staff continue to be put at risk in their schools. 86% of UK schools still contain asbestos meaning up to 7 million children are at risk. 44% of teachers have not been told if their school contains asbestos meaning they could unknowingly be putting themselves and their pupils in danger.

Children are particularly vulnerable to developing mesothelioma. A five year old child that is exposed is five times more likely to contract mesothelioma than someone exposed to asbestos in their 30s. Parents are being kept in the dark about this.

It's a really hard time for us at the moment but it would give us some comfort to know that we can help to make sure that something will be done to protect children and teachers from the terrible and entirely preventable disease in future.

Please sign and share this petition to raise awareness and help to change things.

ReallyTired Tue 14-Jun-16 12:25:46

I am sorry to hear about your mum.

Asbestos was certainly an issue in the school I used to work in. Sadly your mum is not the first teacher to get this terrible disease and is unlikely the last. I think that the risk to teachers and TAs is higher than children because they put up displays. I also believe that facilities staff (ie. Caretakers) are at huge risk. The school where I used to work had an asbestos survey done and as far as I know the asbestos is still there.

I think a major issue is that staff do not know where the asbestos is. Often it has been painted over or covered. Outside contractors like IT engineers who put up network switches can often intentionally disturb hidden asbestos. It really is not a solution to cover up the asbestos. It needs to be properly removed.

Lucienne1 Tue 14-Jun-16 12:53:09

Thanks so much. It is so frustrating to think that many more people could end up going through the hell that we are as a family when it's actually completely preventable. My main concern is that parents are in the dark about it. If there was more pressure from us then we might be able to get decent funding from Department of Education to get rid of this awful stuff.
The HSE sees schools as low risk environments but as a teacher I'm sure you've seen first hand how often kids can bump and knock stuff. With 2 million asbestos fibres fitting on a pinhead and no 'safe' exposure levels it's awful to think of what is going on each day.
Please do sign and share the petition to help make more people aware.

ReallyTired Tue 14-Jun-16 20:33:20

I am not a teacher. I used to work in IT support. I see schools from a different angle to parents, children or teachers. Schools are huge organisations and there are a lot of people behind the scenes. The electrican who fits sockets, or the IT engineer is at awful risk from asbestos.

If it's any consolation most asbestos is not at child height. Typically it is in the ceiling or designed to protect a load bearing wall. Unfortunately asbestos is soft and tragically some teachers used it to pin up displays without knowing what it is. Ofcourse the outside contact or who unwittingly drills into an asbestos wall puts everyone at risk.

Quitecrossgirl Wed 15-Jun-16 18:38:47

Lucienne - I am so sorry about your mum, sadly in years gone by people working in many jobs were unwittingly exposed. I can't tell you how sad your mums illness makes me.
I can also tell you and others what should happen now - All schools have what's called a duty to manage asbestos, they all have this legal duty. In my council this is enforced quite rigorously and we have a team of people wholly dedicated to ensuring schools manage the risk effectively. In 2014 the hse surveyed schools for this very reason and provide extensive advice on their website. Asbestos is not harmful if it's not damaged or disturbed but we NEVER allow staff in our schools to put up displays or fit shelves etc until they have checked for the presence of asbestos . All buildings have a survey - again it's the law so I would urge everyone on here who works in a school to ask for the results of that survey, you should have that information made available to you AND be told the rules about what you can and can't do in school. Also the survey must be shown to anyone who works in the school to ensure they make themselves aware of where it is. Plus each year the person in the school with responsibility for the building must survey the condition of the asbestos to check it has not deteriorated. HTH.

GraciesMansion Wed 15-Jun-16 18:49:53

In all schools in our authority there is an asbestos management plan and any contractor doing work has to read and sign it. It contains details of where any asbestos is. I thought all schools had to do this?

Lucienne1 Wed 15-Jun-16 19:04:45

It's good to hear that your council is taking it seriously. Sadly I don't think that's the same everywhere though. A TUC survey in 2014 found that 44% of teachers hadn't been told if there was asbestos in their school, so if they don't know then they can't keep themselves or the children safe.
The HSE does currently class asbestos in schools as low risk but many experts challenge this classification. There is no 'safe' level of exposure to asbestos. Ultimately we need a plan for the removal of all asbestos from schools - in a phased, properly financed way by 2028. There's more about this on the Asbestos in Schools website
In the USA it has been standard for schools to produce an annual report to parents on the presence, state and management of asbestos. Plus every potential exposure is listed on the child's health record in case future problems arise. I think that UK parents should expect the same level of transparency.
Thanks for your support at this difficult time.

ReallyTired Wed 15-Jun-16 19:07:25

The risk of asbestos in schools is managed, however contractors or TAs can make mistakes. The only true way to eliminate the risk is to remove the asbestos.

Realistically staff do not get to read the asbestos report of a school. They often do not know what asbestos looks like.

Coldtoeswarmheart Wed 15-Jun-16 19:11:04

This is why there was a Private Members Bill a little while ago which proposed a deadline for removing all asbestos from buildings by about 2028. All gone a bit quiet since, though.

Lucienne1 Wed 15-Jun-16 19:49:42

Please can you tell me which politician led the private members bill? The things we are calling for in the 38degrees petition are taken from APPG on occupational safety and health ( but went a bit quiet then too. Am going the petition can bring the focus back to this issue and raise awareness amongst parents and teachers. Would be so grateful if you would sign and share the petition
Sincerely hope no other families have to experience what we are when this is a preventable disease.
Many thanks,

Coldtoeswarmheart Wed 15-Jun-16 20:10:05

Not sure, but if you Google "asbestos private members bill" the first result is RoSPA document about the bill, which might have their name in (on phone, tricky to read the document!).

Lucienne1 Wed 15-Jun-16 20:27:29

Thanks, I'll look into it - once bedtime sorted.

cdtaylornats Wed 15-Jun-16 23:07:30

Asbestos dust is the problem. Too many councils hear asbestos and start ripping it out and actually creating the problem.

ReallyTired Thu 16-Jun-16 20:01:34

If you use a proper asebestos contractor then they will know how to remove and dispose of the asebestos safely. Schools have long summer holidays which are ideal for planning such a job.

Warning teachers of asbestos is pointless as many of them do not know what asbestos looks like. I know one science teacher who unwittingly almost pinned up a poster on asbestos. The caretaker thankfully stopped her.

The only way to protect staff and children from asbestos is to get rid.

ProfessorPreciseaBug Sat 18-Jun-16 07:23:28

There are two sorts of the stuff. The really nasty stuff is the insulation material used to insulate pipes, typically heating pipes. It is the soft fluffy wooly looking material... Because it is often used on heating pipes it is extremely dusty and hence verry easily spread and inhaled. Even vibration can loosen it. Moving this material is extremely difficult and hazardous because of the dust issue.

The other variety is encapsulated. usualy in cement for corrugated roofing or wall panels. Another use is thermal protction to structural steel where it was sprayed on as a wet slugde then allowed to set. It was also used in brake linings for many years. This material is generaly safe where it is as long as it is left undisturbed.

The danger occurs when, as said above, someone is unaware of its presence and disturbs it causing dust that people can inhale. There is no "safe" limit with the stuff. One spec of fibre in the lungs can set of an illness. I am not certain, but it does seem some people have inhaled dust and not developed the illness.

I am not aware of people becoming ill through absorbsion through the skin. Though it may be possible for it to enter the body if one cuts oneself in a sharp edge of the material. I don't know eaxtly when it was banned. Certainly it was after the 70's.

Of course the real bugger is that were not for the safety issues, it is the best material for doing the job it was used for.

fruttidibosco Sat 18-Jun-16 07:49:28

In sorry to hear about your mum OP.

I just want to add to those saying "one spec of dust" can cause illness - this is only theoretically true. However, we all breath in asbestos fibres everyday, they are inherent in our atmosphere and most people don't get this illness. Most people that get asbestos related illnesses have worked with it and therefore have been subject to prolonged heavy exposure.

There are three types that have been used in building materials - brown, blue and white. White is arguably the least dangerous as it clears from the lungs after 3 months. Brown and Blue stay in the lungs for years and cause scaring, which in turn can cause illness such as mesothelioma.

To also put it into context, there is no safe level of exposure to cigarette smoke. It is however incredibly unlikely that you would get ill from passive smoking one cigarette. It is also incredibly unlikely that you would get ill from one exposure to asbestos. It is a cumulative effect in both cases.

That said, schools and councils do need to be very aware of where it is and to manage it correctly to ensure students and staff remain within safe levels

fruttidibosco Sat 18-Jun-16 07:53:23

Your mother is beautiful OP. I hope she is doing well. I have had a close family member suffer from the disease, and he was fairly comfortable for a long time and lived a very full life up until about 3 weeks before his death. I hope that is also the case for your mum. Thoughts are with you all, it's a very cruel world xx

Lucienne1 Sat 18-Jun-16 08:26:38

Thankfully Mum was a very healthy person when she was first diagnosed and managed to keep getting out, walking the dog on Dartmoor etc which is what she loved. She's at home in a hospital bed in the living room now with days or weeks left and it's really, really hard.
MPs met and discussed asbestos in schools in 2012 and heard evidence from national experts. They concluded that all asbestos should be removed by 2028 - starting with the most dangerous. Schools built between the 1940's and 1970's (the ones with one story block classrooms with flat roofs and big windows - we called them 'terrapina' when I was at school) contain lots of asbestos and they're getting old and the stuff is breaking down making it unsafe. The Department for Education is failing to implement these findings - with some people suggesting it's because they are worried about funding it. I don't think it's right that our kids and teachers are at risk from this stuff, particularly now that the evidence is so clear.
My petition is here and I'd be so grateful if you would sign and share it
Also, if you want to check about asbestos in your own school this site is very helpful with a guide of what and who to ask. It also contains more information about asbestos in schools
Do keep yourselves and your kids safe. I would hate for another family to go through what we are.

IamSlavetotheEU Tue 21-Jun-16 13:28:46

I heard a Jeremy Vyne program on this issue and off the back of that I asked our school, and they told me where it was and how it was contained.

Sorry to hear about your mum. Its a ticking time bomb issue and the gov has set aside a lot of money to pay for claims.

Lucienne1 Tue 21-Jun-16 13:54:56

I'm so pleased you were able to take action and that your school responded. It's incredibly hit and miss unfortunately. I really think there will be much more accountability if parents and teachers are told each year where it is and how it's been managed. It's been like this in the USA for 20 years. They also have to put on people's health record if there is any potential exposures. That means that if someone has symptoms later then Drs know to look for possible mesothelioma. If it's caught early there is the chance of surgery. It was sadly too late for my Mum because we were all completely in the dark. Please do sign the petition and pass it on if you can.

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