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Schools on killer asbestos alert

PUBLISHED: 13:41 09 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:17 07 September 2010

Susanna Wilkey DEADLY asbestos is still present in most of Camden's schools, the Ham&High can reveal. The toxic substance exists in 45 of Camden's 54 primary, secondary and special schools – just above 83 percent. The shock figures follow an investigation

Susanna Wilkey

DEADLY asbestos is still present in most of Camden's schools, the Ham&High can reveal.

The toxic substance exists in 45 of Camden's 54 primary, secondary and special schools - just above 83 percent.

The shock figures follow an investigation under Freedom of Information powers, and has prompted teaching unions to call on the council and government to urgently remove it.

Many of the schools have major redevelopment plans in the pipeline, and asbestos becomes most deadly when disturbed.

Helen Saunders, health and safety adviser of Camden NUT, said: "Under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme and the primary schools scheme, the NUT wants all asbestos removed from schools in Camden. We have been campaigning for it to be removed for the last few years and there has got to be a big tranche of money put towards this - that is what we are pushing for. It is very high on our agenda because teachers have died of asbestos-related diseases.

"Most teachers are not totally aware of the problem and the biggest danger is that you cannot see it. Another problem is if you are exposed to asbestos, nothing happens for about 20 or 25 years."

The Ham&High's revelations come days after the British Safety Council lambasted the government for not having a national register of asbestos in schools, and called on ministers to implement a programme for asbestos removal.

BSC chief executive Brian Nimick said: "Without these actions the tragedy of asbestos in schools will be left to fester and continue to kill the lifeblood of our society. Teachers and pupils continue to live with the deadly legacy of having once worked or studied in a school containing asbestos."

Nationally, 224 teachers have died in the last 14 years from asbestos-related diseases and an unknown number of children could become ill in later life.

An average of 16 teachers die each year and asbestos is the greatest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK.

Ian Timpany from NAS UWT said: "We are obviously concerned about teachers working in buildings with asbestos and we are calling on it to be removed from all schools. If Camden does not agree to get rid of all the asbestos as part of BSF they are being over cautious which is not good enough because it poses such a risk to teachers and children - it is a horrible thing."

Asbestos is present in most buildings constructed before 1980 and, if disturbed, releases spores into the air which cause mesothelioma, a deadly cancer which is virtually untreatable.

It is present in 34 primary schools, eight secondary schools and three special schools. Most of it was found in boiler houses, or other service areas and Camden Council says it has not been extensive or posed a risk to children.

Former teacher Linda Grove, who lives in Belsize Park, said: "It is a huge problem that it is in so many schools.

"There should be an effort to get rid of it all as part of BSF and the primary schools programme. It is very worrying because there are huge health risks."

And chairman of the governors at Hampstead School, which contains asbestos, Geoff Berridge added: "In an ideal world all the asbestos would be removed. In schools of certain ages people often do not know where it is.

"Clearly when Camden schools are being renovated it is an opportunity to look for and remove asbestos. The health implications are of serious concern when asbestos has been uncovered and spores are present in the air. We are concerned about it and on the alert but the problem cannot be solved overnight."

Camden says all high-risk material has been removed and in every instance of asbestos found a risk assessment was carried out.

A council spokeswoman said: "Forty-five of Camden's schools have been found to contain asbestos, in common with most buildings constructed before the mid-1990s. Most of was found in boiler houses or other service areas and has not posed a risk to children. Camden has an exemplary policy on managing asbestos. Where building works are being carried out in areas where asbestos remains and it is practical to do so, the asbestos will be removed. Heads, key governors and site officers have been receiving individual briefings on asbestos safety and procedures.''


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