• In this article, mesothelioma legal specialist Jeremy Horton explores the concerns surrounding schools and a potential ‘third wave’ of asbestos disease.


    Britain has had the unenviable reputation of the highest incidences of mesothelioma in the world: nearly five times that of the USA’s. This is because mesothelioma is predominantly caused by asbestos, which we imported and used in a large amount of our buildings constructed between roughly the 1950s and 1980s. This included the more dangerous ‘brown’ type (typically used in asbestos insulating board).

    There is a long latency period between the ‘seeding’ of asbestos fibres inhaled and the eventual development of cancer in the mesothelial membrane (mainly) around the lungs – typically 20 to 60 years.

    Since 2010, annual deaths from mesothelioma have continued at over 2,000 a year, reaching a peak of over 2,500 between 2012 and 2018. Thankfully, the numbers now seem to be declining slightly, with a 7% fall to 2,369 deaths recorded for 2019. This may reflect passage of time since the peak construction exposure. It was that peak asbestos use which is believed to have led to the big second wave of mesothelioma deaths that we may be starting to come to the end of – the first wave being among primary asbestos workers.

    Asbestos in schools – the current situation

    Unfortunately, another wave may be approaching for those in the education sector (and possibly also NHS hospital staff). Recent reports by the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (based on fresh data analysis) shows previous deaths from mesothelioma of UK teachers and pupils exposed in 1960-1980s could be as high as 5,000-10,000. This is the result of poor asbestos management in schools built in the 1950s to 1970s (to meet urgent needs after World War II) followed by years of inaction by subsequent governments.

    The greater concern is that current asbestos levels in such schools are only likely to be higher than they were pre-1980s because the buildings and their asbestos materials have continued to deteriorate.

    About 85% of UK schools still contain asbestos, with most comprising the more toxic brown asbestos. However, just how bad a state that asbestos is in we don’t know as an audit of asbestos in UK schools was rejected due to fears of provoking ‘unnecessary panic’.

    There is a risk that children exposed to asbestos are particularly vulnerable to later disease, especially because they have a longer life expectancy than older people affected, such as teachers.

    With school management costs rising and less funding due, the risk remains for teachers and pupils being affected by the disease.

    Case study

    The firm’s Personal Injury team is currently acting for a Kent classroom assistant in her 60s whose mesothelioma claim is heading for trial this autumn. We are cautiously optimistic of winning at trial or through settlement.

    It is believed that she was exposed to brown asbestos fibres from two sources between the 1980s and 2000s. This resulted from pinning/ stapling and then removing classroom displays on asbestos-based display boards (sometimes with a knife). Further, by movement in a mobile classroom, disturbing fibres from brown asbestos insulation boards behind heaters.

    Thankfully, following earlier surgery and chemotherapy, her tumour is currently stable. Unusually, 2 ¾ years after first symptoms, her symptoms remain relatively mild. Sadly, with this incurable disease we know they will eventually deteriorate and what the inevitable result will be. We have claimed for her all compensation that can be calculated now. Additionally, we have claimed the right to come back when her symptoms worsen and recover the costs of private immunotherapy/other treatments, to give her as much time as possible.

    About the author

    Jeremy Horton specialises in asbestos compensation claims and is the only APIL Accredited Occupational and Asbestos Disease Specialist solicitor in Kent, Medway, Essex, Surrey and Sussex. He is passionate about helping asbestos disease victims and their families achieve fair compensation as quickly as possible.

    Further support

    If you or a loved one is suffering from mesothelioma, please get in touch with Jeremy or one of our friendly team today.

    This content is correct at time of publication

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