Asbestos in Welsh school could mean demolition, says specialist

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A consultant contractor has advised Caerphilly Council to consider pulling down a 900-pupil school forced to close due to asbestos.

Asbestos Illness/Disease Compensation

Cwmcarn High School was closed on 12 October when asbestos was noticed by workmen.

The school will partially reopen on Monday 22, with 6th form students reporting to the performing arts centre. A council spokesperson confirmed that all Cwmcarn pupils will be able to resume studying after half-term on Monday 5 November.

"Details are currently being considered by the governing body and council and further information will follow in due course," the spokesperson said. "Years 12 and 13 will return to the new block on the Cwmcarn site tomorrow, with Year 11 following on Monday 22 October."

The council closed the school on receiving a structural report identifying asbestos and recommending an immediate notice of prohibited access, despite an allegedly low risk to students and staff from asbestos fibres in this case.

Inhalation of asbestos, commonly used in construction for its insulation and fire retardant properties until its ban in 1999, is a proven cause of asbestosis and the incurable cancer, mesothelioma.

According to Caerphilly, the specialist contractors behind the report advised the council to "look at the abatement/demolition of Cwmcarn High School, due to the implicated costs of continuing to operate without further risk of exposure."

Councillors estimate that removing the asbestos would cost millions, but say the authority is considering all options.

The council is due to host a series of parents' meetings to provide a further update and make arrangements for pupils returning after the half-term break. The matter will also be discussed at a specially-convened council meeting on Tuesday 23 October.

According to newly-issued council guidance, asbestos inhalation may take some fibres into the lungs and breathing out will remove some. However, a few fibres could be left in the lungs and possibly cause harm in the longer term.

Describing the situation at Cwmcarn as "difficult", the education minister, Leighton Andrews, has said that councils have clear legal duties to do annual surveys and that all Welsh schools must report on their asbestos levels.

Mr Andrews said Public Health Wales was providing a health-based risk assessment, and Caerphilly council was looking at a number of options to accommodate pupils as a priority.

Welcoming the seriousness with which the matter is being taken, the NASUWT teaching union warned of the "massive issues" relating to raising the money needed to remove the material at a time of education cuts.


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