A research group has claimed that up to 3000 deaths could be occurring each year as a result of exposure to asbestos in schools. The Committee on Carcinogenicity has been examining evidence and have concluded that it is entirely reasonable to estimate that more than 3,000 deaths a year occur as a result of exposure to asbestos at school. During their research over recent years, the committee has also found that children are more at risk of developing mesothelioma (the cancer formed when exposed to asbestos) because they will live for longer, allowing the cancer longer to develop. It is estimated that a 5 year old child who is exposed to asbestos is five times more likely than a 30 year old to develop mesothelioma over their lifetime.

The Asbestos in Schools Group and the Joint Union Asbestos Union Committee are campaigning for greater awareness for the vulnerability of children in schools. As a result of their campaigning, the Government is set to review its policy on asbestos in schools. When the final report from the Committee on Carcinogenicity committee has been produced, the Department of Education will conduct their own internal review and make the necessary changes to their policies.

Asbestos itself is a natural mineral made up of thin fibrous crystals, and is commonly used to insulate buildings, work places and schools. Asbestos was commonly used as a building material between 1945-1975 due to its affordability and durability. Its use in the construction of school buildings is no exception; it is common place in lagging, ceiling panels, partition walls and sprayed coatings in schools built during this time.

The mere existence of asbestos in these forms is not harmful. If the asbestos is broken, however, a dust is created and it is the inhalation of these dust particles that can be harmful.

The Government policy in relation to asbestos in schools is that it is safer to leave it if it is in good condition than it is to replace it.  This policy is not new, however, having been unchanged for some 40 years.  There are mounting concerns that this policy is now out of date, and needs to be reviewed. In addition, there are question marks over how adequately schools are in fact maintaining the asbestos. Maintaining asbestos in schools is much more difficult than in other buildings, such as offices; all it may take is a child to kick a wall or slam a door and asbestos fibres may be released: more stringent measures therefore need to be in place to protect children and teachers from being exposed to this deadly fibre.

The debate surrounding this area is by no means concluded, further discussions are due to take place between campaigners and the government, with campaigners fighting for a long overdue review of the policy currently in place to save lives in the future.

As a result of exposure to asbestos over the past 40 years, many former pupils, teachers and support staff have most likely died as a result of mesothelioma. Relatives who have lost loved ones to this most aggressive form of cancer could of course pursue a claim for personal injury and other loss as a result of the exposure to asbestos. If you would like to discuss the possibility of pursuing a mesothelioma claim, please don’t hesitate to contact our experienced Personal Injury Lawyers for a free claim assessment.

By Nick Molyneux, Mesothelioma Claim Solicitor

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