Over 200 school buildings in Bristol area still contain asbestos

The number of schools in the Bristol region with asbestos still in their buildings has been revealed.

At least 200 schools in the Bristol region – Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset council areas – still have some form of asbestos in them, a series of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests have found.

North Somerset Council has settled four claims in the last decade, paying out nearly £450,000 in the process.

Asbestos was widely used for building until 1999. It acts as an insulator and protects against corrosion. However, it can become a risk to health if the fibres become airborne – something that occurs when the asbestos is broken during construction work.

The condition, mesothelioma, can take decades to develop and is potentially fatal.

The information was requested by campaigner Lucie Stephens, whose mother Sue died from mesothelioma in June last year. Sue had been a teacher. There are concerns because of the increased construction work taking place in expanding schools to accommodate more pupils.

John McClean, secretariat of the Asbestos in Schools Group said:

“What this information reveals is that the Government’s policy of managing asbestos in schools is simply not working and is putting children and staff at risk.”

Paul Jacobs, service director for education and skills at Bristol City Council, said:

“As part of their health and safety responsibilities, schools are required to undertake visual inspections of their buildings on a six monthly basis.

If there are any visible changes, they have a duty to contact the council and we then act to ensure there is no risk. To support this process, we also use external consultants to inspect schools on a four yearly basis. The next round of external inspections are currently being arranged. Where schools have major building works planned, inspections will tie in with these.”

North Somerset Council said the four claims were historic cases and the exposures had taken place between 1961 and 1992.

A spokesman for South Gloucestershire Council said:

“The council has a responsibility to assess all of its buildings for any risks, including the presence of asbestos, and to take appropriate action to ensure those buildings are safe to use.

Each identified school has an asbestos management plan, which is reviewed each year.

This has led to the removal of material where the asbestos is in a form where there is a substantial risk of disturbance, and in the majority of these cases the remaining material is sealed within materials considered by the Health and Safety executive as low risk, such as some forms of plastic tiles.

The management plans include, for example, guidance on carrying out maintenance or building work in or around areas with asbestos to ensure that it remains safe.

Higher risk materials have been removed in a controlled way during the course of routine maintenance and redevelopment works over the years and this process will continue as schools are upgraded over time.

We remain vigilant and while asbestos will ultimately be removed from all of our buildings, while it remains safe to manage it in place, we will keep the situation under continued review.”