South East Wales

Asbestos: Cwmcarn High School could reopen after scare

Media captionMembers of the Welsh assembly members were meeting on Tuesday to discuss the threat of asbestos in schools

Hopes are growing that a high school which closed last year following fears over asbestos could reopen.

Cwmcarn High School in Caerphilly county closed in October after a report said asbestos posed a threat to health.

But the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says it is an "essentially uncontaminated school" after new tests.

Meanwhile, members of the Welsh assembly members will meet later on Tuesday to discuss the threat of asbestos in schools.

The cross-party group is chaired by Conservative AM Nick Ramsay, who has backed a "right to know" campaign to create an online database about levels of asbestos in all Welsh schools.

It would include information about all school buildings and be available for anyone to search.

Michael Imperato, a solicitor who is part of the campaign, told BBC Radio Wales: "Confusion is the word I would use, because if I was a parent or a teacher at Cwmcarn, where do you stand now?

"One minute we're saying the school has to be closed and the children bussed 12 miles up the valley and the next we're hearing today everything is okay, perhaps it can reopen.

"This illustrates exactly the point of the right to know campaign.

"People should be better informed, should be able to find out what the position is in their schools and then they can start to make informed choices and start to ask the right questions of local authorities, of school governors, of head teachers.

"It just empowers people to know a bit more about what's going on in something which is very important."

In October, Education Minister Leighton Andrews announced that all schools must deliver reports on asbestos levels after Cwmcarn was closed following testing.

The report by Santia Asbestos Management Limited had said airborne fibres at the 900-pupil school were 10 times higher than the accepted levels.

'Council acted appropriately'

However, on Monday it was revealed that a new report carried out on behalf of HSE by the Health and Safety Laboratory - which carries out scientific research - indicated that the risk to pupils and teachers at Cwmcarn was low.

Media captionAn earlier study said asbestos levels at Cwmcarn High School, Caerphilly county, were a potential health hazard.

"Having made both visual checks of the fabric and considering the results of the HSL testing, HSE believes it is an essentially uncontaminated school," said HSE.

"However, any decision on whether it should reopen rests with the school governors. It is their choice whether to use the HSL report in any decision making."

HSE said the method of testing carried out by Santia could "overestimate the levels of asbestos fibres as it does not distinguish between asbestos fibres and other fibres such as paper, clothing and skin cells".

But HSE added: "The council acted appropriately in closing the school, given the advice contained in the report they commissioned at the time."

The council and school have asked for a further survey but it will be three weeks before any decision is made.

Students are currently being educated 12 miles away at Coleg Gwent's Ebbw Vale campus.

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