Current and past students in Hampshire and Portsmouth are potentially part of thousands of people nationwide who may have been exposed to asbestos during science lessons.
The Health and Safety Executive have made the revelation after being made aware of two companies who have supplied schools with science equipment which contained the potentially deadly material.
Of particular concern are gauze mats which have been supplied to schools dating back to 1976.
An HSE spokesperson said: ‘Our inspectors ensured the supply of asbestos containing gauze mats stopped immediately. We alerted schools, colleges and others to the issue, providing precautionary advice on how to check if they are affected and what to do next.’
Portsmouth’s deputy director of children, education and families, Mike Stoneman, said: ‘Portsmouth Council was notified of the situation on the 3rd September after receiving an update from the HSE and the Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the Provision of Science Services (CLEAPPS).’
The HSE and CLEAPSS have issued guidance which the council have passed on to all schools.
‘Schools in Portsmouth should continue to follow the guidance issued and will work within well established procedures around the disposal of asbestos. The council will support all schools in the city with any questions or concerns they have.’
The NASUWT teaching union are concerned about the potential ramifications for students and staff and believe the two companies involved should be named.
General Secretary, Chris Keates, said: ‘It is shocking that suppliers, clearly only interested in profit, have distributed life threatening equipment putting children, teachers and other staff at risk. It is unacceptable that the two suppliers have not been named.’
NEU vice president and Portsmouth teacher Amanda Martin is also concerned for the potential welfare of staff and children.
‘The union have carried out a number of surveys regarding asbestos in schools and the potential dangers associated. Any HSE report should be treated seriously and any guidance followed.The National Education Union believe it is time that we end the deadly asbestos gamble to protect children and staff and remove asbestos in all its forms from our education establishments,’ explained Ms Martin.
Whilst the two companies have not been publicly revealed the council have assured schools that they will be identified in order to assist with the identification of potentially contaminated mats.
‘The two organisations in question will be contacting all schools that have bough the affected products,’ said Mr Stoneman.
The NASUWT have issued their own guidance to schools and health and safety representatives.
The advice highlights that any gauze purchased after 1976 should be considered suspect unless an appropriately accredited testing certificate is shown and that contracted experts should be deployed to remove any suspect gauze mats.
Prolonged exposure to asbestos can lead to the debilitating lung condition asbestosis and associated diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.
In light of such concerns the council have moved to reassure the public that the risks of potential exposure to such conditions are low.
‘We would like to take this opportunity to reassure parents that the risks associated with this product are very small. Parents and teachers alike can find out more information about the affected products by reading the statement from the HSE,’ stressed Mr Stoneman.
Access to the statement can be located at