More information: Asbestos in Scotland’s Schools

“(A) is for Asbestos.”  Action on Asbestos is calling on the people of Scotland to protect our children, teachers, and all those who work in schools from exposure to asbestos which can cause cancer. We are calling on Parents, Grandparents, Family members and friends, Scottish MP’s, MSP’s, local councillors, duty holders, and decision-makers to come together and use the powers that they have to protect our children from the real dangers they face from exposure to asbestos in our schools.

Those who are responsible for our children’s safety must ensure the safe management of asbestos in schools and begin the progressive removal of asbestos, or rebuilding, of all Scottish schools containing asbestos to be completed by 2040.

We are calling for an end to the fear caused to parents, teachers and school staff because of asbestos in school buildings. The issue of whether asbestos should be removed or is safer left in situ appears to be dealt with differently depending on who occupies the building: Leaving it in place doesn’t seem to be an option and cost does not seem to be a problem if asbestos is found in Westminster, Buckingham Palace or Bute House, but when it comes to our schools it is deemed to be safe left where it is or too costly to remove.

It’s no longer good enough for those in power in Scotland to deflect answering this question by saying that the management of asbestos in schools is an issue that is governed by the HSE and as those powers are not devolved this somehow absolves decision-makers here from their responsibility to protect our children. Is our conscience and responsibility to protect those most vulnerable a non-devolved issue too?

We want a coordinated approach throughout Scotland. We are calling for the Scottish government to bring together all duty holders and decision-makers to tackle this issue head-on. Progress on this issue in Scotland has been too slow for too long. It’s time for that to change:

There must be a survey of all Scottish schools, in line with the Education Funding Agency Report (EFA): Asbestos Management in Schools: Data Collection Report. February 2017. This will identify the scale of the problem in our schools. This must be conducted as a matter of priority and the completion of this survey should be compulsory for all Scottish schools.

The recommendations in THE EFA report should be fully endorsed and implemented in all Scottish schools immediately:

• a senior member of staff or member of the governing body designated as responsible for the management of asbestos
• an asbestos management plan which is updated annually, or when there is reason to suspect circumstances have changed;
• an asbestos management survey and asbestos register
• processes and procedures in place detailing the control measures to prevent disturbance of any known asbestos-containing materials noting that some asbestos might be hidden in the fabric of the building

Advice for all Scottish schools must be issued as a matter of priority as it has been in England by EFA with the recent publication of ‘Managing asbestos in your school; Departmental advice for school leaders, governors, staff, local authorities, academy trusts, and charitable trusts.

Why does this matter?

Asbestos causes lung cancer and mesothelioma. Teachers, former pupils, school janitors, cleaners, and canteen staff are dying from asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma, and the numbers are increasing.

The dose level required to contract mesothelioma is extremely small. Potential exposure to asbestos in schools is more likely because of the nature of schools. A National Audit Office report found asbestos was a “potentially dangerous issue” in most schools, and warned it could be disturbed by “unruly” pupils or teachers attaching work to walls.

“(A) is for Asbestos” Children are more vulnerable than adults and therefore have a significantly higher risk of developing mesothelioma. A five-year-old child that is exposed is five times more likely to contract mesothelioma than someone exposed to asbestos in their 30s. It is reported that between 200 and 300 people die each year from exposure to asbestos as school children.

The Committee on Carcinogenicity, an independent committee that advises the government on cancer, was asked by the Department for Education to look at the relative vulnerability of children to asbestos compared with adults. In its final report, published in 2013 it stated:

“Because of differences in life expectancy, for a given dose of asbestos the lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma is predicted to be about 3.5 times greater for a child first exposed at age five, compared to an adult first exposed at age 25 and about five times greater when compared to an adult first exposed at age 30.”

Dr Kevin Blyth a specialist in mesothelioma and associate professor at the University of Glasgow said there were 175 cases diagnosed in 2014 with the incidence particularly high in the west of Scotland, he also stated:

“…..asbestos is also incorporated into thousands of Scotland’s buildings like office buildings and schools and cases related to environmental exposure are increasing.”

Robin Howie, an asbestos risk specialist said:

“This is an issue that has concerned me for decades. Hundreds of public buildings have a significant asbestos content. Routine maintenance and general dilapidation of those buildings causes a release of asbestos fibres into the air.

“Unless stringent asbestos fibre limits are introduced and enforced in our schools and public buildings then our children will continue to be exposed to an unacceptable level of risk. The threat cannot be overstated.”

Iain Naylor, whose wife Sandra died three years ago at the age of 52, after developing mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos dust when she was a pupil at a North Lanarkshire school:

“I lost my wife because she was a pupil in a school full of asbestos. How could that happen? How many others have been affected?

“I want to make a direct plea to all candidates and parties across the country to begin to address this. Meet with campaigners and victims because the safety of our kids and working people could not be any more important.”

A Sunday Mail investigation, in 2012 (see petition updates for this story 2017) asked Scottish councils, under the Freedom of Information Act, for the number of schools with asbestos, the type of asbestos and its location.

• The 23 councils which replied revealed they had 1261 schools containing asbestos.
• Both Glasgow and Edinburgh city councils refused to reveal figures on cost grounds.
• Fife Council had 149 primary and secondary schools with asbestos out of a total of 175 schools.
• They spent £429,500 in the previous three years on asbestos management but have no planned programme of removal.
• Out of 211 Highland Council schools, 126 had asbestos. But they spent only £55,500 in three years removing it.
• North Lanarkshire Council had 124 schools with asbestos and spent £1.5million in the previous three years removing it.
• There were 103 schools in South Lanarkshire with asbestos. They spent £2.6million in three years removing asbestos.

Speaking to the Sunday Mail, campaigner Michael Lee whose wife Gina died of mesothelioma caused by asbestos in schools stated:

“A high proportion of schools have asbestos with the potential to release deadly fibres. The government’s policy is that it is safer to leave asbestos in place than to remove it. Even banging doors or hitting walls or structural columns can inject these fibres into rooms.”

“Every drawing-pin stuck in a classroom ceiling can release asbestos fibres into the atmosphere. When people are regularly exposed to these supposedly low-level risks, as my Gina was, the cumulative effect can lead to the formation of tumours.”

We must act now to deal with this problem in our Schools. Support our petition and protect our children, teachers and school staff from cancer causing asbestos.

Petition · Protect our children from asbestos in Scottish schools ·

Read more about the management of asbestos in our schools

Last updated: February 2020

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