Asbestos found in 75% of council-run Devon schools
Asbestos is present in about 75% of council-run schools in Devon, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.
Some people want it completely removed, but a government expert said disturbing it could be more harmful.
Asbestos, which used to be a common building material, is no longer used.
Education authorities in Devon, Torbay and Plymouth have insisted regular checks are done to ensure asbestos does not pose a health risk.
The National Union of Teachers is campaigning for a programme to remove asbestos as well as a national audit of asbestos in schools to get a country-wide picture of the situation.
End Quote Prof David Philips Committee of Carcinogenicity
Once you start disturbing it you could be creating a greater problem”
ATaC (asbestos testing and consultancy) which offers independent advice on the management of asbestos reported its concerns to the government in 2010, after a random national survey of 12 schools highlighted serious concerns.
Spokesman Andy Jackson said: "If asbestos is properly managed it's a safe material, but not all schools are managing it properly and that's when it can be a problem."
The report said none of the schools it surveyed were fully compliant with HSE guidance, only four had an adequate standard of asbestos management, while the majority had standards which were "either ineffective or unworkable and with the potential to cause a contamination or exposure incident".
The FoI request showed that 84% of Plymouth's council-maintained schools and 60% of Torbay's, contained asbestos.
In Devon, 82% of schools run by the county council have, or are presumed to have, the material in its buildings.
There has been one successful legal claim against Devon County Council in the last decade for asbestos exposure in a school, which resulted in a compensation payout of £8,000.
Pete Nash, of the Plymouth Association of Primary Head Teachers, said there was a strict monitoring of schools, with risk assessments carried out every month.
"The more dangerous asbestos was taken out of our schools years ago," he said.
The disease, which can take decades to develop, affects the thin lining of the chest and abdomen.
Exposure to asbestos dust and fibres is believed to be responsible for most mesothelioma cases.Exposure management
The Health and Safety Executive said, statistically speaking, the number of teachers dying from asbestos-related conditions was in line with the average for all occupations.
Michael Lees, who set up the Asbestos in Schools Group following the death of his wife Gina - a supply teacher who died in 2000 from the asbestos-related condition mesothelioma after a 30-year teaching career - would like to see all the material removed.
"Progressive government's have had this policy that it's safer to leave it in place and manage it without addressing the problem," he said.
"If they adopted this policy we're asking them to do - identify the asbestos, set your priorities to remove the most dangerous asbestos first - you then incrementally solve the problem."
Professor David Philips, chairman of the government's committee of carcinogenicity, said the government policy was to manage the exposure of asbestos in schools.
"Once you start disturbing it you could be creating a greater problem than leaving it where it is, if it's not properly managed," he said.