Nearly 700 council buildings in Worcestershire are infected with asbestos – despite the disease killing nearly 2,000 people a year.
Worcestershire County Council has admitted nearly half of its 1,500 pieces of property contain the killer scourge – including schools, public libraries, smallholdings and offices.
The findings have led to criticism the authority is not doing enough to reduce the danger, with critics calling it a “heck of a figure”.
At County Hall a ‘known asbestos’ register currently has 699 sites on it, roughly 46 per cent of the council’s 1,500 assets.
Bosses have insisted some removals would be so unsafe it is “not an option” – with the only possible response left to cover it up and contain the danger.
Asbestos kills around 1,800 people across the UK per year and is a contributing factor in more, but doctors have warned the figures have yet to peak and could rise past 2,000 before 2020.
People falling victim to lethal diseases from it rarely get symptoms until between 25 and 50 years later.
Councillor Peter McDonald, Labour group leader at the county council, said:
“Asbestos is not a problem of the past, it’s a problem of the present. Annually there are at least 5,000 people a year who die from it including a great number of teachers.
Six hundred and ninety-nine is a heck of a large figure, it should be a priority to remove asbestos from these buildings to reduce the number of people dying.”
Speaking during a full council meeting, he challenged the Conservative leadership on it. Councillor Marc Bayliss, the cabinet member for transformation and commissioning, told him the figure includes everything from caravan sites to highways departments. He said:
“I agree with him that asbestos is a legacy that we, across the country I guess in all sorts of institutions, wish we weren’t dealing with.
We do have a programme to seek to deal with the programme where it has established – sometimes removal is appropriate but sometimes safe removal is not an option and ‘encasement’ is a more acceptable model of management.”
He also told him asbestos was very common “right up until the 1980s”, used commonly in areas like pipe insulation. The figure of 699 includes 160 academies across Worcestershire.
The county council has released a fresh briefing note on its asbestos policy in response to the concern, saying every building built before 2000 has been examined.
It says the figure will start to drop “as buildings are rebuilt or refurbished”.