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To fulfi l the demand “system” built schools were introduced that were prefabricated with standardised design and components. Asbestos was widely used in these buildings to protect them from the serious fi re risk inherent in these structures. Asbestos insulating board (AIB) was extensively used in wall panels,

ceilings, door and window surrounds, fi rebreaks and as cladding for structural columns. AIB normally contains amosite. All the walls and ceilings of some temporary classrooms are AIB. Ducted hot air heating cabinets contain AIB which can release asbestos fibres, and there are reports of dust from the heaters settling on classroom desks. Also damaged asbestos in storage heaters can release fi bres. Tests have shown that just removing books from a classroom stationary cupboard with an unpainted AIB backing releases cumulatively signifi cant levels. So does displaying the children’s work with drawing pins or staples. In 1987 tests were carried out in a school in London as the teachers were concerned that the boys were kicking AIB walls and slamming doors. Air tests found that signifi cant levels of amosite fi bres were ejected into the rooms even though the AIB was painted and appeared to be in good condition. Further tests were carried out in a primary school where signifi cant levels of fi bres were ejected when toilet doors were slammed. The problem arises because the reverse face of AIB is not sealed so when the wall is hit fi bres are released from the back.

Government guidance No warning was given at that time to the thousands of other schools that contain AIB. It was only after the problem was rediscovered almost 20 years later that a warning was fi nally issued. The tests show that, even when encased, hidden or apparently in good condition, AIB can release

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Asbestos in schools: The facts ■ More than 75 per cent of UK schools contain asbestos.

■ All contain chrysotile (white asbestos) but many contain amosite (brown asbestos) and some contain crocidolite (blue asbestos).

■ Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. Britain has the highest incidence of mesothelioma in the world – more people die from the cancer than are killed on our roads.

■ Amosite is up to 100 times more likely to cause mesothelioma than chrysotile, while crocidolite is up to 500 times more likely to cause the cancer.

■ There is no threshold exposure below which there is no risk.

■ All exposures are cumulative and increase the likelihood of mesothelioma developing.

■ The latency for mesothelioma is from about 10 years to over 60 years from fi rst exposure. On average, lower exposures have longer latencies.

■ A total of 228 school teachers have died of mesothelioma since 1980. But 140 school teachers have died in the last 10 years.

■ In 1980, fi gures showed that three school teachers died each year from mesothelioma.

■ In 2008, fi gures showed that 16 school teachers died each year from mesothelioma.

■ Because of the long latency children are more vulnerable to the dangers of asbestos.

■ It is estimated that a child of fi ve is about fi ve times more likely to develop mesothelioma by the age of 80 than his teacher of 30.

■ In America, it has been estimated that for every teacher who died of mesothelioma from asbestos exposure at school, nine children would subsequently die (in the UK, this would equate to 2,000 children).

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