No plans to remove asbestos from 38 Coventry schools

There are no plans to remove asbestos from Coventry’s schools as the safest thing to do is not to disturb it, a leading cabinet member has said.

A recent Freedom of Information request from the Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed two thirds of Coventry schools contain potentially harmful asbestos.

A total of 38 of the 57 schools of which the council is responsible for (66 per cent) contain the substance, with 13 containing crocidolite – the most serious, reports the Coventry Telegraph.

Shadow cabinet member for education Councillor Peter Male said the figures were “concerning” and asked if the council has a programme to remove the substance. At full council on Tuesday, he said;

“I accept there’s no immediate danger. I’m really looking to understand have we got a programme to remove this asbestos over time – I understand the cost implications in that.”

Cabinet member for education Cllr Kevin Maton admitted children are learning in “out of date and frankly poor quality buildings”.

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But the council does not have the money to remove potentially harmful asbestos, he added, and will only act  if there’s a particular danger identified. He added:

“Over the years the whole question is to make sure where there is asbestos in buildings we know that it is there and the safest thing is to not disturb it. It’s very flippant to say we understand the financial costs but we are an authority that doesn’t have the money to build and replace schools.

The idea that we should unnecessarily use resources we don’t have to remove asbestos when it is not a danger.

I would absolutely accept if we identify there’s a particular danger we will address that which is exactly what we already do.”

Asbestos gives off fine and often invisible fibres which can be breathed in and remain in the lungs for long periods after exposure. Their presence can lead to asbestos-related diseases, such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Since 1980 at least 319 school teachers have died from mesothelioma, 205 of those since 2001, the National Education Union says.

Asbestos was banned in 1999 but was regularly used in construction until this date, with many system built schools using structural columns that were fire proofed with asbestos containing materials (ACMs).

However, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says that if properly managed, asbestos presents a “very low risk” to people in school buildings.