Six million tonnes of the toxic material asbestos still remains within 1.5m predominantly public buildings in the UK, according to a new report.
The report, by think tank ResPublica, points out that the UK’s asbestos regulation are woefully behind some European countries and is putting the lives of workers and the public at risk.
The substance continues to be the UK’s number one occupational killer, causing more than 5,500 deaths last year and even though it was banned experts say that exposure to even small amounts can have potentially devastating impacts.
Pointing out that a child in the UK can be legally exposed to 10 times as much asbestos as they can in Germany and that nurses and teachers are 3 to 5 times more likely to develop mesothelioma than the general UK population, the report called for the “phased removal” of asbestos from UK buildings.
It stated, “It cannot be stressed enough in this report that mesothelioma – the form of asbestos-related disease with the highest death count on record – is one which does not require high-level exposure in order to cause harm.
‘Far more people in harm’s way’
“Asbestos now represents a different kind of danger through continuous low levels of exposure. It is a secondary risk, analogous to passive smoking, which although less concentrated and less localised, could place far more people in harm’s way. This includes all those that work, or spend considerable time, in public buildings.”
The report called for UK asbestos regulation to be brought up to the strictest European standards and for a registry of public buildings containing asbestos to be created.
Unite national officer for local authorities, Jim Kennedy said the report is a damning indictment of the government’s “utter disregard of the very real risks asbestos poses”:
“Not just to hundreds of thousands of public sector workers, whose workplaces still contain dangerous levels of the substance, but children, patients and the millions of other people who use public buildings every day,” said Kennedy.
“The policy of simply leaving asbestos untouched in heavily utilised buildings is not good enough. The government might want people to believe that asbestos is a historical issue that poses little risk today, but that is not true. Teachers are dying of mesothelioma at five times the rate of those not exposed to asbestos and nurses at three times the rate.”
Kennedy added, “Unite fully supports the report’s calls, including for a ‘phased removal’ of asbestos, the creation of a central register of public buildings containing asbestos and for asbestos legislation to be brought up to the strictest European levels. Until that happens that scourge of asbestos and the misery it causes will continue for generations to come.”