Asbestos fear at school

Attleborough High School has closed off a room in its sixth form after a fractured ceiling tile containing asbestos was discovered during a routine inspection.

Attleborough High School has closed off a room in its sixth form after a fractured ceiling tile containing asbestos was discovered during a routine inspection.

The potentially lethal building material has to be removed by specialist contractors because it is a hazardous substance.

Experts have told Attleborough High, following the discovery last Wednesday, that there has been a 'minor' release of asbestos and the level of exposure would have been 'exceedingly low'.

Parents, staff and children have been informed of the situation, and given a helpline number should they feel in need of further support.

The incident happened within days of teachers, union leaders and politicians calling for asbestos to be removed from Norfolk's classrooms as an investigation by the Mercury's sister paper, the EDP, showed 390 of Norfolk's 438 schools had asbestos on their premises.

Neil McShane, acting head-teacher at Attleborough High, said: 'Our priority, as always, is the health and safety of our students and staff and we carry out regular inspections of our buildings.

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'During a routine inspection, asbestos was found in a fractured ceiling tile in one of the sixth form common rooms. The room has been sealed off as a precautionary measure due to the inspector identifying a small area of asbestos-containing material being disturbed.

'A specialist consultant has carried out tests and found that there has been a minor release of asbestos due to the fracture in a ceiling tile. Professional advice suggests that the levels of exposure would have been 'exceedingly low, almost nil'. In fact, the perceived risk was considered to be so low that it did not justify carrying out air sampling tests.'

Mr McShane said the affected room would remain closed until specialist contractors had dealt with the asbestos-containing material and undertaken an environmental clean-up of the area. Air monitoring will also take place to ensure the area is safe before it is reopened.

He added: 'It is unfortunate that that this incident has occurred and I have written to parents, staff, and students, to apologise for any concern that it may cause, and I have provided them with a question and answer sheet about asbestos and offered the contact number for the Norfolk Support Line should they wish to seek further support.'

Norfolk County Council spokesman Steve Reilly said it was a 'one-off incident'. The council has been advising the school on what action to take, in line with its procedures for the management of asbestos. The education authority will also manage the removal of the material.

'Schools having asbestos within their build reflects the fact that asbestos was commonly used for many years - certainly until the 1980s. However, asbestos is no longer used in school builds and has not been used for some time, and prior to any remodelling or refurbishment of an older school, asbestos will be removed,' he explained.

'In addition, we are soon beginning a programme of phased removal of asbestos, on a risk basis, from public buildings in Norfolk over the next five years.'

Earlier this month, teaching union NASUWT passed a resolution at its annual conference calling for the removal of all asbestos from Britain's classrooms by 2012. General secretary Chris Keates said it was the biggest workplace killer in the UK and could be a hidden but deadly threat in ageing schools.