ASBESTOS IN SCHOOLS
Pupils and teachers across the country may have been exposed to poisonous gas during science lessons after schools were supplied with dangerous equipment.
The Department for Education (DfE) has written to all secondary schools and colleges in the UK ordering them to remove bunsen burner gauze mats as they are believed to contain dangerous asbestos.
The banned products, used on top of bunsen burners, may have been in circulation since the 1970s. The two companies responsible have not been named.
In a letter to headteachers, the DfE said: "Remove current supplies from use until you have established whether the gauzes used in your school or college have been provided from an asbestos-free source."
It directed them to the website of school science advisory service CLEAPSS, where they should follow the advice “with immediate effect”.
“We appreciate that following these steps may affect your school or college’s delivery of the science curriculum and science departments may need to reschedule practical science lessons until such time that they can secure a fresh supply of gauzes,” the letter says. “The safety of staff and students is of the utmost importance.”
Schools have been told to prevent “access to cupboards or drawers where gauzes are stored by sealing them securely with tape”.
Headteachers who did not know whether they had dangerous gauzes have been told to "respond as if at least some of them” were. The items must be disposed of as if they were hazardous waste BY A LICENCED ASBESTOS COMPANY.
"There are serious questions to be asked and answered about this appalling situation, including why it has taken so long to identify that suppliers are using such hazardous materials and what action the government intends to take to support schools in the light of this revelation, including the costs that may be incurred as a result of the disposal of this material."
The substance discovered in tests was tremolite asbestos, which makes up 20 to 30 per cent of the heat-resistant pad at the gauze’s centre.
Tremolite has needle-like fibers and is considered as toxic as chrysotile or white asbestos. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has ordered the companies to stop sending the products to schools.
Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause fatal illnesses including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis with symptoms sometimes remaining undetected for 30 years.
A DfE spokesman said: "Following advice from the Health and Safety Executive we have immediately written to all secondary schools and colleges advising them to take steps to remove and dispose of potentially hazardous mesh gauze used in science lessons."
"We will continue to liaise with the HSE and CLEAPSS over this issue."
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