Asbestos is claiming the lives of up to 300 former pupils and 15 teachers a year, according to a report from the teaching union NUT. The union is calling for a national audit of all schools to assess the asbestos risk. It says said that while research suggests around 86 per cent of school buildings contain the substance – which can cause cancer – 44 per cent of teachers questioned did not know whether their school was one of them.
Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, said: “There has to be a proper audit to determine the scale of the problem. The dangers of asbestos in schools are obvious. What is needed to truly address the problem is a concerted effort on a national scale.” She added: “Political parties must actively engage with a problem which is very far from being addressed and has taken many lives. Children, parents and staff deserve better.”
The newly published findings of an NUT survey conducted in March revealed that just 15 per cent of teachers who were aware that their school contained asbestos had seen a copy of a management plan to deal with the problem. One in three teachers reported there had been an incident that may have led to exposure to asbestos. The union added there could be extra risk for children at free schools, which are often opened in “unsuitable buildings.”
According to the World Health Organisation, Britain has the highest mesothelioma rate in the world, at 17.8 deaths per million of population.
The government has apologised to the families of dead nuclear workers whose body parts were taken for testing without their knowledge. The Redfern Inquiry was ordered when it emerged in 2007 that organs were taken from 65 workers at Sellafield in Cumbria between 1962 and 1992.
Michael Redfern QC concluded that the relationship between pathologists, coroners and Sellafield medical officers ‘became too close’ with failures to adhere to professional standards. He said: “The blame lies mainly at the door of pathologists who performed the post-mortem examinations. Ignorant of the law, they removed organs for analysis without satisfying themselves that the relatives’ consent had been obtained.”
Mr Redfern said it was the view of the families that the bodies were treated as a ‘commodity’. Bones were even replaced with broomstick handles so no-one would become suspicious at the funerals.
Nuclear industry unions Prospect and GMB, who were among the organisations who called for the inquiry, welcomed the report. Mike Clancy, deputy general secretary of Prospect, said: “Nobody would question the value of medical research into potential health risks to the industry’s employees and close neighbours. Such research is clearly in the public interest but that does not in any way justify the removal of tissue without appropriate consent. Our thoughts are with the affected families, for whom this is difficult and upsetting.”
Steve Gibbons, regional officer responsible for GMB members at Sellafield, said: “This has been an extremely distressing period for the families involved in this ordeal and this union shares their concerns. GMB believe that we have played our part in trying to eradicate, completely, levels of radiation exposure in order that workers are protected from industrial disease.”
TUC Risks, Number 483, 20 November 2010.