A LARGE proportion of Bolton’s schools contain asbestos - prompting safety fears for pupils and teachers.

Freedom of information requests have revealed that 51 out of 123 primary schools, secondary schools and nurseries across the borough contain the dangerous material.

Bolton Council has moved to reassure parents, saying each building is inspected and audited regularly and that the asbestos is not dangerous unless it is damaged or disturbed.

However, Abigail Morrison, a senior solicitor who works on industrial disease cases, called the findings “worrying” and said the situation puts pupils at risk.

Asbestos is common in a lot of buildings constructed prior to 2000 but is often controlled and regulated rather than being removed.

In most forms the material is not considered dangerous but when moved or disturbed it releases fibres which can lodge in someone’s lung tissue and cause long term problems.

Ms Morrison, from legal firm JMW Solicitors, said she was concerned that people were at risk of being unintentionally exposed.

“While ensuring asbestos is safe and contained can prevent exposure, this doesn’t account for accidental damage,” she said.

“Many of these buildings are old and damage caused by incidents such as fire, flooding or roof collapse could disturb locations containing asbestos, sending the harmful fibres into the air.”

READ MORE: All 51 Bolton schools containing asbestos 

Asbestos was regularly used in the construction of buildings between the 1950s and 1980s because of its fire-resistant properties. It was not until the 1990s that the threat of the material became fully clear and in 1999 the government officially outlawed its use.

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Ms Morrison added: “The presence of asbestos in so many schools in Greater Manchester is worrying due to the fatal implications caused by exposure to the hazardous substance.

“Due to the long latency period of the condition, many people who attended or worked in schools up to 60 years ago could have been exposed and are just beginning to show symptoms of the condition.

“Furthermore, schools that contain asbestos today could be putting current teachers and pupils at risk, creating health problems for a new generation.”

The government’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE) closely monitors buildings which contain asbestos and provides information on how to manage it.

A spokesman for Bolton Council explained that the authority works closely with the HSE in an effort to ensure school students and teachers are safe.

Each school which is known to contain asbestos is regularly inspected and the authority works to the requirements of the government’s Control of Asbestos Regulations Act, which requires proactive management of any affected public buildings.

This involves yearly checks performed by specialist inspectors at each building in question.

“In accordance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, there is a presumption until proven otherwise that there will be asbestos-containing material in buildings over a certain age,” the spokesman said.

“All buildings where asbestos-containing material is present are managed in accordance with legislation and industry best practice.

“We carry out regular maintenance and asbestos surveys to ensure our school buildings are completely safe for everyone and we have a robust management plan in place.”

It is thought that the percentage of schools in Bolton which contain asbestos is lower than the ratio across the rest of the country – around 90 percent. It is often found around pipes and boilers, and in wall and ceiling tiles.

Exposure to fibres released after the material is disturbed can cause a number of serious conditions, including asbestosis and mesothelioma. It can also lead to lung cancer which can present itself decades after someone breathes the tiny particles in.

Since 1980, at least 319 school teachers in the UK have died from asbestos-related conditions, with 205 of those happening since 2001, according to the National Education Union (NEU).

In addition, at least 40 teachers and members of school staff died from mesothelioma in 2017 - an increase of 30 percent on the previous year - prompting the union to brand years of regulation and management efforts as “failed”.

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Earlier this year, Emma Hardy MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) Asbestos in Schools Group called on the government to take up a programme of phased removal of the material from public buildings across the country.

She said: “Nearly 90 percent of our schools still contain asbestos – and this is putting pupils and staff at risk of developing fatal illnesses in later life.

“The PAC has rightly criticised government’s inadequate approach to asbestos management.

“What is needed is a Government funded phased removal of all asbestos in schools, starting with the most dangerous first.

“This is the only way to ensure the safety of school staff and most importantly pupils.”