THE vast majority of Oldham’s schools contain asbestos - prompting safety fears for pupils and teachers.

Freedom of information requests have revealed that 72 out of 80 schools across the borough contain the dangerous material, the highest percentage anywhere in Greater Manchester.

Oldham Council has moved to reassure parents, saying each building is inspected and audited regularly.

However, Abigail Morrison, a senior solicitor who works on industrial disease cases, called the findings “worrying” and said the situation puts pupils at risk.

Asbestos is common in a lot of buildings constructed prior to 2000 but is often controlled and regulated rather than being removed.

In most forms the material is not considered dangerous but when moved or disturbed it releases fibres which can lodge in someone’s lung tissue and cause long term problems.

Ms Morrison, from legal firm JMW Solicitors, said she was concerned that people were at risk of being unintentionally exposed.

“While ensuring asbestos is safe and contained can prevent exposure, this doesn’t account for accidental damage,” she said.

“Many of these buildings are old and damage caused by incidents such as fire, flooding or roof collapse could disturb locations containing asbestos, sending the harmful fibres into the air.”

Asbestos was regularly used in the construction of buildings between the 1950s and 1980s because of its fire-resistant properties. It was not until the 1990s that the threat of the material became fully clear and in 1999 the government officially outlawed its use.

Ms Morrison added: “The presence of asbestos in so many schools in Greater Manchester is worrying due to the fatal implications caused by exposure to the hazardous substance.

“Due to the long latency period of the condition, many people who attended or worked in schools up to 60 years ago could have been exposed and are just beginning to show symptoms of the condition.

“Furthermore, schools that contain asbestos today could be putting current teachers and pupils at risk, creating health problems for a new generation.”

The Oldham Times:

The government’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE) closely monitors buildings which contain asbestos and provides information on how to manage it.

Oldham Council’s cabinet member for education and skills, Cllr Shaid Mushtaq, explained that the authority works closely with the HSE in an effort to ensure school students and teachers are safe.

Each school which is known to contain asbestos is regularly inspected and the authority works to the requirements of the government’s Control of Asbestos Regulations Act, which requires proactive management of any affected public buildings.

This involves yearly checks performed by specialist inspectors at each building in question.

“Oldham Council is committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of pupils, staff and anyone else who visits our schools and we are fully satisfied that the procedures we have in place do just that,” the councillor said.

“We can assure all parents and pupils that our schools have been thoroughly inspected for asbestos, and that regular and detailed checks are carried out.

“Within the last few years the HSE has audited our asbestos register and processes and confirmed it was satisfied with the register and processes.”

The Oldham Times:

It is thought that the percentage of schools in Oldham which contain asbestos is similar to the ratio across the rest of the country – around 90 percent. This is often found around pipes and boilers, and in wall and ceiling tiles.

Exposure to fibres released after the material is disturbed can cause a number of serious conditions, including asbestosis and mesothelioma. It can also lead to lung cancer which can present itself decades after someone breathes the tiny particles in.

Since 1980, at least 319 school teachers in the UK have died from asbestos-related conditions, with 205 of those happening since 2001, according to the National Education Union (NEU).

In addition, at least 40 teachers and members of school staff died from mesothelioma in 2017 - an increase of 30 percent on the previous year - prompting the union to brand years of regulation and management efforts as “failed”.

Earlier this year, Emma Hardy MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) Asbestos in Schools Group called on the government to take up a programme of phased removal of the material from public buildings across the country.

She said: “Nearly 90 percent of our schools still contain asbestos – and this is putting pupils and staff at risk of developing fatal illnesses in later life.

“The PAC has rightly criticised government’s inadequate approach to asbestos management.

“What is needed is a Government funded phased removal of all asbestos in schools, starting with the most dangerous first.

“This is the only way to ensure the safety of school staff and most importantly pupils.”