The likelihood of exposure to asbestos can never be underestimated or lightly dismissed as a “low risk” issue. Construction experts constantly warn that asbestos may still be hidden in any property in Britain built up to 2000 when use of all types of hazardous insulation had been finally banned the year before. Yet today, reports of asbestos materials uncovered during renovations at schools, hospitals and council buildings are not uncommon, and frequently make the front pages of the local press.

The problem facing the educational sector, in particular, may be highlighted by recent estimates, which suggest that 75 per cent at least of Britain’s 29,000 schools are likely to still contain significant amounts of asbestos. In some areas of Manchester and Wales, the figure could be as high as 90 per cent.

Lancashire Council have also released figures, which show that more than 570 of the county’s 617 schools across the entire region contain asbestos. The death toll from asbestos exposures in school have led to concerns being raised in the House of Commons. In 2012, an all-party parliamentary report stated that, “Over 140 school teachers have died from mesothelioma in the past ten years”.

Continuing widespread risk

It’s likely that the almost daily news reports have increased asbestos awareness of the continuing widespread risk and contributed to the latest parliamentary report, which calls for measures to remove asbestos from all properties in the UK by 2035.

Just how widespread the problem of asbestos is and the need for its removal from Britain’s public, private and commercial buildings is illustrated almost every week.

Asbestos has recently been discovered in an Isle of Wight primary school, which led to the pupils being sent home. However, a council spokesman said that the school was closed “because it was unable to provide meals, not because the asbestos posed a health risk”, adding that asbestos was “common in the fabric of older buildings” and claiming that “the risk of contamination was extremely low at all times”.

Understandably, parents and local residents need to be reassured that they and their children have not been exposed to potential health dangers.

Hidden in the fabric of the building from decades earlier

The existence of asbestos in public facilities other than schools or hospitals likely to have remained hidden in the fabric of the building from decades earlier, could also be a cause for concern over potential past exposures.

The Fairfield Halls, a well-known arts, entertainment and conference centre opened in 1962 in Croydon, London is to close for two years while undergoing a £30 million refurbishment, which will also include asbestos removal and replacement of the ventilation systems in the first 18 months.

In the early 1960s, an average of 160,000 tons of asbestos fibres was imported into the UK each year to be turned into insulation products and used in all areas of building, engineering and manufacturing.

Stated removal of asbestos

Another public leisure facility, also built in 1962 is in the news over a site renovation, which requires the stated removal of asbestos.

It has been reported that Grimsby Swimming Pool will be demolished and turned into a recreational open space to be opened in the new year. The North East Lincolnshire Council consider that leaving the swimming pool – which was used by around 500, 000 people every year – as a vacant site would be “very high risk”.

Earlier in 2015, water in an outdoor swimming pool in Chelmsford, Essex was found to be contaminated with asbestos. Three year earlier, asbestos was also discovered found by contractors repairing a public swimming pool in Belfast. Earlier still, in 2006, two swimming pools at a Coventry leisure complex had to be closed after the discovery of a ruptured pipe leaking water into a pump room found to contain asbestos.

However, the use of asbestos in building and construction goes back much further than the 1960s.

It has been announced that a new £17.5 million home is to built for the iconic Concorde airplane, which is to be based at a former World War One hangar at Filton Airfield, south Gloucestershire. The Grade II listed building, used during World War One by the Royal Flying Corps, will need to have amounts of asbestos removed as well as other structural repairs carried out before the planned opening in June 2017.