Pupils at secondary schools across UK may have been exposed to asbestos from heatproof gauze mats used with Bunsen burners, after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said two companies had been supplying the deadly material to schools.
As the new academic year begins, science teachers have been warned not to use their stocks of heatproof mats and to remove them from classrooms and “seal them with tape”, until their certification with suppliers has been established, or they have been given the all clear after laboratory tests.
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As it is impossible to establish which of the metal mats contain the deadly carcinogen and which do not, schools would have had no indication the materials were unsafe.
The risk of exposure remains “low”, the HSE said and told the companies to stop supplying the mats to schools, adding they were working to establish which schools were affected.
Most of the 72 people who died as a result of the blaze on 14 June last year are thought to have died from inhaling poisonous smoke.
While unions suggested the gauze mat may have been supplied to schools from 1976, it is understood HSE officials believe the issue is a far more recent problem.
An HSE spokesperson said: “Although the risk of exposure is low, we took action as soon as we were informed.
“HSE inspectors ensured supply of the asbestos-containing gauze mats was stopped immediately. We got the message out as soon as possible and alerted schools, colleges and others to the issue, providing precautionary advice on how to check if they are affected and if so what to do next.
“Our investigation into the circumstances that led to these particular gauze mats coming into circulation is on going. As part of this, HSE inspectors have served enforcement notices on both companies to ensure that all affected mats are disposed of safely.”
But the Nasuwt teaching union has written to the Department for Education (DfE) saying the length of time the companies have been selling products containing asbestos to schools “beggars belief”, and demanded the names of the two suppliers be made public.Read the full story here
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