At a meeting about the condition of schools in the United Kingdom, the former headmaster of a secondary school in Sunderland, England, told the story of how his pupils needed to be “hosed down” by emergency services personnel after they were exposed to asbestos fibers while at school.
The former head of the Hetton School in Sunderland, located in northeast England, told the story to the government’s Public Accounts Committee at a meeting where they were discussing the deteriorating condition of many of the country’s schools.
He told those present that the teens had to be forced to go through a so-called “fumigation van” to be de-dusted after high winds caused asbestos to come loose, permeating the school grounds.
His account came just weeks after the British government issued a report noting that asbestos is still a serious problem in schools throughout the country, reports an article on iNews.
“Obviously, parents were informed, the emergency services and so on,” said headmaster, Phillip Keay. “But it was not a building that was fit to have children in for several years prior to its closure.”
He explained that high winds had dislodged asbestos-containing ceiling tiles, prompting fears that the wider school community may have been exposed to the toxic dust.
Though the school was rebuilt last year, students who were there before the old building was closed may be at risk for eventually developing asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, which usually takes decades to develop.
Those present at the meeting described Keay’s account as “scary” and demanded action to address the country’s aging schools.
Mike Green, Director of Capital at the Education Funding Agency (EFA), said the only real way of completely dealing with asbestos is to “rebuild the school”.
According to building surveys carried out by the EFA, Mr. Green said that 85 percent of schools in the U.K. have asbestos of some sort, adding that, in most cases, they are advised by the government to “leave it and to manage it”. But that doesn’t always work, he notes.
In the United Kingdom, about 5,000 people die each year of asbestos-related diseases, primarily mesothelioma. Those individuals include not only those who worked in heavy industry but also teachers who were exposed to asbestos in their classrooms.
Yet significant challenges remain for the U.K. government, faced with fixing these crumbling buildings. It will take an estimated 7 billion pounds to bring all schools up to “good” standards, number crunchers have stated.
In the United States, many older schools contain asbestos, though the EPA demands that each have an asbestos management program in place and that the public has access to information that shows where asbestos is located and how it’s being addressed.
That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been asbestos exposure in U.S. schools. It’s just less likely than in the U.K. that students will encounter the toxin.