End asbestos gamble, teacher unions plead

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Sue Stephens was a primary school teacher in Buckinghamshire for almost 30 years, before dying from mesothelioma.

Around 86 per cent of schools contain asbestos and deaths from mesothelioma are increasing. In 2013, 17 teachers died of mesothelioma. The total number of support staff deaths is not known.

Of even greater concern, particularly to parents, is that children are at risk of developing mesothelioma in later life, because of exposure to asbestos at school.

It is estimated that 200-300 former pupils are dying each year as adults because of exposure at school.

Commenting on the situation and the death of Sue Stephens, John McClean, Chair of Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC), said: "The continuing presence of asbestos in so many of our schools is a disgrace. Effective government action to tackle this scourge is long overdue, and our children and school staff deserve better."

Kevin Courtney, NUT Acting General Secretary, said: "Yet another teacher’s life has been tragically cut short by this dreadful, and entirely preventable, disease. Nothing can be done to put right past asbestos exposure, but we must do more to protect future generations of school children and staff.

"The government must now set out a long-term strategy for the phased removal of asbestos from all schools."

Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), added: "‘It’s scandalous that every year teachers and support staff are dying from asbestos-related illnesses, because they have been exposed to asbestos in school. The government must listen and start a phased removal of all asbestos in schools so that no more children or teachers are exposed to asbestos and risk dying from this entirely preventable disease."

The JUAC is calling for the phased removal of all asbestos from schools by 2028.

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