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Wednesday 29 Oct 2014

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Just Another Brick In The Wall? Inside Out on trail of asbestos in our schools

More than 90% of South East England schools still contain asbestos, a special investigation by the BBC's Inside Out South East will reveal.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the team conducts the first survey of asbestos in South East schools. Of Kent's 599 schools, 554 contain asbestos; in East Sussex, 185 of the county's 195 schools carry the substance.

For Wednesday's Inside Out, presenter Glenn Campbell joins an asbestos survey team as they assess Chaucer Technology School in Canterbury to find out what risk it poses to pupils and teachers, and what action is being taken to protect them.

In post-war Britain the majority of state schools were built using the substance, which only becomes a threat to health once it is exposed and starts to crumble. Every school affected should have its own asbestos management plan, and under current guidelines areas where it is exposed should be securely sealed.

The Health and Safety Executive's Rosalind Roberts acknowledges the health risk if asbestos fibres become airborne, but argues that it would be more of a danger for people in those schools for it to be removed.

She adds that if it is sealed there is no health risk and there is a duty on local authorities and schools to ensure the substance is properly managed.

But, as our schools get older, Glenn asks should the UK be following Ireland and America and immediately stripping out all asbestos from our schools, rather than slowly refitting them?

Leading asbestos expert Robin Howie comments: "If we are going to build new schools, wonderful, but if old schools are tarted up, that asbestos will still be there, just hidden."

Highlighting cases of teachers suffering from mesotheliomas – the cancer caused by asbestos – he adds: "Teacher mesotheliomas are important because they are the tip of the iceberg and that iceberg is mesotheliomas in children."

Glenn meets the families of teachers Gina Lees and Elizabeth Bradford, who both died from mesothelioma.

Gina's husband Michael tells the programme: "I was the person to go to two former headmistresses and tell them their school contained asbestos and they didn't know… and yet all the tiles in the school were asbestos and they'd been damaged on a daily basis, hence Gina had been exposed."

Inside Out: Asbestos In The Classroom, Wednesday 28 January 2009, BBC One South East, 7.30pm, and on BBC iPlayer


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