Concerns have been aired as to the potential risk to pupils and teachers across the UK as a result of the use of equipment that has now been discovered to contain asbestos.
As reported by Sky News and The Telegraph, the Department for Education (DfE) has written to all of the UK’s colleges and secondary schools, ordering them to cease using Bunsen burner gauze mats that are believed to be partially made from the lethal substance.
The schools have been told to remove any gauzes dating back to 1976, amid growing calls to publicly name the two suppliers of the affected mats.
Staff and student safety “of the utmost importance”
In its letter, the DfE advised headteachers to “remove current supplies from use until you have established whether the gauzes used in your school or college have been provided from an asbestos-free source.”
It added that the recipient should follow “with immediate effect” advice on the website of the school science advisory service CLEAPSS.
“We appreciate that following these steps may affect your school or college’s delivery of the science curriculum and science departments may need to reschedule practical science lessons until such time that they can secure a fresh supply of gauzes,” the letter added.
“The safety of staff and students is of the utmost importance.”
HSE assures schools of “extremely low” risk – but worries remain
The type of asbestos discovered in the tested gauzes was the relatively rare tremolite asbestos. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said “limited quantitative testing” on gauze materials from the two suppliers had shown them to consist of 20% to 30% asbestos, although the substance was not detected in all gauzes tested.
The HSE has expressed a belief that the gauzes pose an “extremely low” risk to health, and that schools should halt their use of them only as a precautionary measure.
However, Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, condemned it as “unacceptable” that the suppliers had not been named, and called on schools minister Damian Hinds to demand the release of this information publicly to relieve the “anxiety and distress” of staff, pupils and parents.
He added: “There are serious questions to be asked and answered about this appalling situation.”
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