Cases continue to be regularly heard where female teachers have fallen victim to mesothelioma when they were exposed to asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) hidden within the fabric of the school nursery or college where they worked.

It frequently reported that there could often be a lack of asbestos awareness at the time to either its existence in the building or to the deadly health risks that daily exposure and the breathing in of the fibre dust particles could bring many years later.

Not made aware of the health risks

In the latest case, a former home economics teacher was employed at one Lancashire school between 1973 and 1981 and as a supply teacher at various schools in the surrounding area between 1983 and 1995. Having been recently diagnosed with the fatal, incurable mesothelioma cancer, which is known to only be caused by asbestos exposure, there is now an urgent to need to discover if her co-workers were similarly affected. There is also the strong possibility that they too, were also not made aware of the health risks and were unwittingly exposed to asbestos by the county council employer when teaching in schools in the regional area.

In the reconstruction period after World War Two, and continuing for some thirty years afterwards, around 6,000 ( just over 45 per cent) of the 13,000 schools built in England and Wales were system / modular built using building materials made from brown, blue and white asbestos fibres.

In addition, from 1957 onwards more than 1,400 schools were built from prefabricated, light gauge steel frames with panel infill and large quantities of asbestos incorporated into a variety of locations, such as ceilings, partition walls, heaters, water tanks, pipes and window surrounds.

Until the mid 1980s when the most dangerous brown and blue asbestos types were banned from use, there was a significant risk of asbestos exposure and contracting asbestosis disease. Despite the initial ban, white asbestos fibres could still be used in products, such as wallboard, linings, hidden infill, surface coatings, pipe lagging, cement construction and roofing sheets. All asbestos use was not completely banned until the very end of the 1990s.

High risk of asbestos exposure

Consequently, anyone working in schools, nurseries or similar public buildings built or renovated up until at least the late 1980s and beyond, were at a high risk of asbestos exposure. However, there is an unusually long gestation period of up to 50 years or more from an initial exposure and breathing in of the fibre particles to the eventual appearance of mesothelioma or similar asbestosis symptoms.

Tragically, there is a significant number of cases, where middle to late middle aged female teachers who are being diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease. There have been reported at least 100 asbestos–related deaths between 2001 and 2005, which affected all school occupants from teachers and pupils to childcare assistants, school caretakers, secretaries, cooks and cleaners (Asbestos in Schools Group).

It has been suggested that the problem of hidden asbestos has been under estimated, and around three quarters of all schools across Britain could still contain significant amounts of asbestos. In the North East of England, it has been recently revealed that as many as 65 per cent of schools in Sunderland contained asbestos, and in specific areas of Manchester and Wales, the figure could be as high as 90 per cent.