“Asbestos In Schools” is still a recurring headline found in both the national press and research reports. It’s a constant reminder that the legacy of more than a century of UK construction, manufacturing and heavy industrial use of asbestos is still with us and potentially, as deadly as ever.

The most recent asbestos scare was on March 31st when it was reported that Kintbery St. Mary’s C.E. Primary School in Berkshire, was forced to evacuate seventy pupils with several staff when a number of ceiling tiles, known to be made of white chrysotile asbestos were lifted by a ‘sonic reaction’ to a science experiment involving a hydrogen balloon.

A subsequent test by the local education authority Health and Safety officers revealed that the disturbance of the tiles had released dust containing trace amounts of potentially dangerous asbestos fibres, and the hall area where the tiles were situated was sealed over the weekend. In addition, the pupils’ school clothing was tested to prevent possible ‘secondary’ exposure. The test results and a full report are expected immediately following the Easter break.

As recently as 1967, asbestos ceiling materials (AIB)– predominantly white chrysotile – continued to be used in school building construction and the then Department for Education were reporting very low levels of asbestos exposure could still put pupils and teachers at risk.

The necessity for a quick and cheap rebuilding programme immediately following World War Two, coupled with often deliberate withholding of information intended to spread asbestos awareness, led to fourteen thousand schools being built, and many others later refurbished, using large quantities of chrysotile (white), amosite (brown) and crocidolite ( blue) asbestos, until the mid 1970s.

Unfortunately, to this day, schools still exist around the UK, which contain hidden white asbestos, mostly contained and posing no immediate risk, unless it is disturbed. However, the history of asbestos exposure in schools has left countless examples of teachers and pupils who were unaware that they had contracted asbestosis or mesothelioma. It would often not be until up to 50 years later when the first asbestosis symptoms appear and the innocent victims or their spouses would begin proceedings to win asbestos compensation.

The consistent lack of funding has often meant that neither the school buildings concerned nor the asbestos have been properly managed. Fortunately, for At Kintbery St. Mary’s School, discussions with contractors hope to bring forward the planned replacement of the hall ceiling before the annual school summer holidays.