South East Wales

Cwmcarn High School asbestos: New report plays down risk

Cwmcarn High School
Image caption The 900-pupil school closed in October after a structural report identified asbestos in the main block

A high school which closed last year following fears of asbestos is an "essentially uncontaminated school", says the health and Safety Executive (HSE).

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

But new tests indicate risks to pupils and teachers are low, said HSE.

The testing looked at the potential for the transfer of asbestos fibres from ceiling voids to rooms below.

"Provided maintenance activities are carried out with the appropriate precautions, the debris in the ceiling void is unlikely to result in quantifiable airborne asbestos exposures to occupants," the report by the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) - on behalf of HSE - concluded.

The school said results showed levels similar to those found in background levels in the atmosphere.

The 900-pupil school closed in October after a structural report identified asbestos in the main block.

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

The previous report by Santia Asbestos Management Limited said asbestos in the roof may have been blown by the heating system, and airborne fibres were 10 times higher than the accepted levels.

The union Unison said demolition was the safest option for staff and pupils.

But the new report by HSL, which carries out scientific research and investigations, casts doubt on the potential danger.

'Suitable solution'

The report said airborne asbestos fibres in the areas suspected most at risk were "very low and many times lower" than those assumed from the previous survey.

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

"However, any decision on whether it should re-open 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 that was 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 school said in a statement: "All of the samples taken by HSL were below the 'limit of quantification', in other words they were so small that they would be below the target sensitivity...

"To place this in context such levels would be similar to that found in background levels in the atmosphere.

"Even with attempts to disturb the fibres through opening all the doors and windows, levels of fibres in the classrooms remained below the levels of quantification."

Caerphilly council said in a joint statement with the school that a management survey would be completed within the next three weeks looking at all options for the site.

"We are hopeful that a suitable solution can be found in respect of the problems at the school site and the council are anxious to work with the governors and the head teacher on this issue," said the council.

"But the council's main priority remains and will continue to be the welfare and education of the children attending school at Cwmcarn."

Previously the council had expressed concern after the school was taken over by its governors. Its foundation status means governors can assume full control of the premises.

However, Monday's joint statement included a quote from the chair of the school's governing body, Gary Thomas, who said: "We are delighted that the council are working with Cwmcarn High School to find a positive outcome.

"We are committed to working with the council and are agreeing a plan with them for the next steps".

The school has also commissioned its own independent asbestos inspection report.

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