Children are more vulnerable to asbestos, government advisors warn

Written by: HTU | Published:

Children are more vulnerable to asbestos exposure than adults, a government advisory committee has warned ministers.

Children are more vulnerable to asbestos exposure than adults, a government advisory committee has warned ministers.



The Committee on Carcinogenicity (COC) this week published its Final Statement in which it found that children are more vulnerable because they live longer and so asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma has more time to develop.



Campaigners are hoping the ruling will have a “profound influence" on government asbestos in schools policy. More than 75 per cent of UK state schools contain asbestos but government policy, based on Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advice, is that schools should identify and protect/manage asbestos-containing materials, rather than remove them.



This is despite the fact that more than 140 school teachers have died from mesothelioma in the past 10 years. It was also claimed in March that up to 300 people a year could be dying of mesothelioma because of asbestos exposure as children at school.



At an Education Select Committee hearing, Professor Julian Peto, an epidemiologist and a member of the COC, said: “It is reasonable to say that something in the order of 100 or 150 deaths per year from mesothelioma in women could in the future be due to asbestos levels in schools up to the 1960s and 1970s.



“It is a reasonable assumption that the same number of males as females are dying of mesothelioma caused by their asbestos exposure at school."



Schools minister David Laws told the same hearing that the government would review its policy on asbestos once it has received the COC report, however campaigners on the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) are sceptical.It is feared that the cost of removing asbestos from schools will prevent the government from taking action.



JUAC continues to campaign for an independent review of asbestos in schools. It said: “The government must delay no longer and urgently implement measures that really do make our schools safe from the dangers of asbestos."



Chair of the Asbestos in Schools campaign group Annette Brooke MP, added: “The Department for Education must publish a strategic plan involving an audit of school buildings and an assessment of the risks. Over a period of time the plan must aim for the removal of the most dangerous asbestos materials."



Elsewhere this week, JUAC has welcomed the news that the HSE is to make public the findings of its investigation into the release of asbestos fibres at Cwmcarn High School in Wales.



In October, the Caerphilly school was shut down after amosite fibres were detected – the source of which was found to be the school's warm air cabinet heaters.



However, details surrounding the closure only emerged earlier this year, sparking JUAC to issue a national warning for schools with similar heating systems to have them checked.



JUAC has been frustrated by what it says is a lack of transparency in the HSE's investigation into the incident and confusing statements about whether the school was safe or not.



However, during half-term the HSE confirmed that it will publish the investigation's findings. A statement to JUAC said: “While HSE does not routinely publish investigation reports, on this occasion HSE believes there is merit in sharing the findings more widely. Once the report has been provided to the duty holders we will be giving consideration on how best to do that."



JUAC issued guidance to schools about warm air cabinet heaters earlier this year. This can be downloaded from http://www.voicetheunion.org.uk/files/pdfs/JUACAdviceWarmAirHeatingApril2013.pdf.


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