Latest developments on asbestos at Cwmcarn High School

Latest developments following Cwmcarn High School closure, due to risk of asbestos exposure, highlights the need for greater transparency, says Cenric Clement-Evans, founding member of Right to Know: Asbestos in Schools Wales campaign.
Right to Know - Asbestos in Schools Wales
Right to Know - Asbestos in Schools Wales
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Cwmcarn High school
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Cardiff - Cardiff - Wales

Feb. 19, 2013 - PRLog -- Last week, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) announced that Cwmcarn High School in Caerphilly, is an “essentially uncontaminated school” and that it does not pose as much risk as was initially thought.

This report came months after a report by Santia Asbestos Management Limited stated that airborne fibres at the school were 10 times higher than the accepted levels, and posed a “significant risk” to children and teachers alike.

So which report should parents and teachers of the 900-pupil school believe? No wonder there is confusion amongst parents as to whether their children can safely return to Cwmcarn.

When BBC Wales' Week In Week Out programme carried out a survey of Local Authorities in October 2012, it found that 1,514 schools in Wales - approximately 85% of the total - contain asbestos.

The fact is that people working and studying in schools across Wales are still at risk. More than 228 teachers have died of mesothelioma in the UK since 1980, with at least 140 dying in the last ten years.  An unknown number of cleaners, administrative staff and caretakers have also died. It’s not known how many children have died but in the USA it is estimated that for every teacher who has died nine children will die.

What will the figures be in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time?

After Cwmcarn High was closed, the Welsh government ordered all schools to report on asbestos levels. All Local Authorities have now reported back to the Education Minister Leighton Andrews AM, but this information has yet to be made public.

Currently, there is no law in place to ensure that parents or guardians have access to information about which schools have asbestos present. In the days of freedom of information, is this acceptable?

Shouldn’t all parents, teachers and all others working in our schools have a right to know if there is a risk from the presence of aged asbestos in school buildings?

Shouldn’t it be easy to find out whether schools have an up-to-date asbestos register and whether it is being managed responsibly?

Our Right to Know campaign is calling for the establishment of a national online schools’ asbestos database, to allow parents and teachers to be able to check with ease whether asbestos is present at any given school and view its management plan at the click of a button.

Our campaign has the backing of a number of Assembly Members across all parties, and this week for the first time since 2010, the Cross Party Group on Asbestos in the National Assembly for Wales met to discuss the issue of transparency around asbestos in schools, as prompted by the Right to Know Campaign. Supporters include cancer charity Tenovus, the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) Unison and Brian Jones of the Campaign Asbestos Welsh Schools (CAWS).

Monmouthshire Council has also shown its support by becoming the first Local Authority to commit to openly providing its data on asbestos in schools to the public.

Our campaign group believes that people should be better informed about asbestos. Only then can they start to make informed choices and ask the right questions of local authorities, of school governors and of head teachers.

Our focus is on the prevention of future exposure to asbestos, on openness and transparency.

We are also calling for universally adopted standards of inspecting, recording and managing asbestos in our schools. The disagreement between experts over the extent of asbestos at Cwmcarn High school is serving only to bewilder and confuse those working there and the parents of the Cwmcarn children.

Also as it stands, there is no formal guidance issued by the Welsh Assembly Government for the management of asbestos in schools. We believe that the Guidelines published by the Department for Education in England in the autumn of 2012 can easily be adopted in Wales. Indeed there is no earthly justification for failing to do so immediately.

It is hard to believe in this day and age the hazard of asbestos still presents a threat to the health of our children and those working in schools. It must be right that parents can easily find out whether their child’s health is potentially at risk from this hidden killer?

The example of Cwmcarn High School is not an isolated one - this will happen again in the future if we don’t address this issue now.

And that presents us with a choice.  Are we going to continue ignoring the issue of asbestos in schools and the dangers that it presents to those within the building? Or are we going to face up to the situation and put measures in place to fully understand the scale of the problem in Wales?

The Right to Know campaign urges Welsh Government not only to acknowledge the lack of information available to parents and those working in schools including teachers; but to establish a database to allow access to this information.

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