Schools asbestos no risk, say chiefs

SAFETY checks have revealed traces of asbestos in schools across Wearside.

Education bosses in Sunderland say the amounts of the deadly dust are so tiny they pose no danger to children.

But they have spent 200,000 removing potentially hazardous asbestos from some of the city's 134 primary and secondary schools.

On Wearside, all council buildings - including schools - have been investigated for traces of the substance over the last three years.

Damaged asbestos can cause disease, if the fibres are carried into people's lungs.

Richard Smith, surveying services manager at Sunderland Council, said asbestos was found in some schools, sealed off, and work to remove it carried out.

He said "pro-active" inspections would continue, adding: "Every school has been surveyed and there is no asbestos in any of our schools that is in an unsafe condition.

"In accordance with advice from the Health & Safety Executive, there is no automatic programme of removal of asbestos in schools. However, where modifications to a building are carried out and asbestos may be disturbed, it is removed and disposed of under strictly controlled conditions."

Under new regulations, employers will have a duty to identify the location of asbestos in their own buildings and manage it.

Karen Gettings, head of Hudson Road Primary School, in Hendon, said: "There is a strict policy in place and any workmen coming in to carry out work must consult a special file in the office which shows the guidelines in place. If we have any concerns about asbestos being moved, the local education authority's asbestos team must be consulted."

Head Mike Gallagher, from St Cuthbert's RC School, in Grindon Lane, described the scheme as "effective and efficient".

Last year a union survey of 22 school kitchens in County Durham revealed 20 of them contained damaged asbestos. The asbestos discovered ranged from broken ceiling tiles to cracked plates on wall pipes, ovens and sterilisers.

The GMB union and Durham County Council have undertaken a second building survey of 360 school kitchens across the county, after the asbestos find.

Jim Marshall, the GMB union's regional health and safety officer, said: "We have had several meetings about this and the county council is starting an asbestos removal programme, but I don't know when it is going to start.

"They told us a year ago they were going to do it, but nothing has happened. I have now been given a reassurance that they are going ahead."

Trevor Boggan, asbestos manager at Durham County Council, said: "We know that many council buildings do have asbestos and there is a quite a legacy there to deal with."