We are raising this issue at a local level - at the same time, national campaigns are being run by the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) and Asbestos in Schools (AIS). Unfortunately, the national campaigns do not seem to be getting the media coverage - and therefore the public support - they deserve.
Teachers and support staff are dying from mesothelioma, a cancer of the lungs and stomach lining which is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos. It's not only workers who are at risk: people are presenting with mesothelioma symptoms and the only place they could have ever been in contact with asbestos was as a pupil in our schools.
We know 319 teachers have died from mesothelioma since 1980 (JUAC website), and the rate is increasing with around an average of 17 teachers now dying each year (support staff are also dying, but it is not known how many because of the way occupational death statistics are recorded). Staff deaths are the tip of the iceberg - Professor Julian Peto has estimated that up to 300 adults die each year from mesothelioma because of asbestos exposure when they were a child at school.
A recent DfE review maintains that staff and pupil safety can be maintained if asbestos is left untouched. However, school staff often are not told whether their school contains asbestos and where the asbestos is located, which means it is impossible for them to avoid disturbing it. An NUT survey carried out in March 2015 found that 44 per cent of respondents had not even been told whether their school is one of the 86 per cent which do contain asbestos.
Combating this lack of information and forcing the government to remove all asbestos from schools by 2028 is the aim of a petition published by Lucie Stephens. Lucie's mother Sue, a teacher for more than 30 years who literally gave her life to teaching, died from this terrible disease in 2016.
Please, please sign the petition. We need to get this problem out into the open, we need to raise awareness among parents, and we need to put pressure on MPs to support our proposals. If it is deemed urgent to remove asbestos from Parliament and other government buildings such as County Hall in Norwich, then it has to be an even greater priority to remove it from our schools, where children are at risk.
We are striving to raise the profile of this issue locally in Norfolk through the local press and other means, and urge other counties to come on board with their own campaigns. The more counties that come on board, the greater the pressure on the government to finally take action.