More than a third of Peterborough primary school buildings contain asbestos

Asbestos warning sign
Asbestos warning sign
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More than a third of primary school buildings in Peterborough contain asbestos, figures show.

Charity Mesothelioma UK has urged education authorities to “take responsibility and rid our buildings of this cancer-causing substance”.

A Freedom of Information request to Peterborough City Council revealed that 20 state primary schools contain asbestos - 35 per cent of the area’s schools.

Research by law firm Stephensons found that the potentially deadly material is present in more than 5,000 English primary schools, across the 105 local authorities that provided figures.

Asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999, but was routinely used to construct school buildings between 1940 and 1970.

Any damage to these older buildings can release fibres into the air, which can cause life-threatening illnesses if inhaled.

Kate Sweeney, a personal injury lawyer at Stephensons, said local authorities are not doing enough to tackle the issue.

She said: “Many people think that asbestos is a problem of the past and that related illnesses only affect construction workers and tradespeople.

“This is simply not the case. The potentially deadly material has been used in all types of buildings, and parents and teachers have a right to know if it is present in schools.

“We are calling for all schools and local education authorities to publicly disclose if asbestos is on the premises and the measures being taken to manage it.”

Mesothelioma, a lethal cancer affecting the lining of the lungs, is directly associated with asbestos exposure. The UK has the highest incidence of the disease in the world.

The disease has caused the deaths of 154 people in Peterborough since records began in 1981, Health and Safety Executive figures show.

This includes 25 between 2013 and 2017, the latest five-year reporting period.

Liz Darlison, from Mesothelioma UK, said: “There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, and we should be doing much more to protect people, particularly children.

“The time from exposure to developing the disease can take several decades, which is why the level of concern is perhaps not fully appreciated.

“As a nation we must take responsibility and rid our buildings of this cancer-causing substance for the sake of our children, their children and every generation in the future.”

An HSE spokesperson said: “Since the dangers of asbestos became clear, successive governments have, over many years, made a concerted and sustained effort to address the issue.

“As a result, mortality rates in mesothelioma are expected to decline from the next decade.”