HSE says thousands of children could have been put at risk
Thousands of children could have been exposed to asbestos in school science equipment since the 1970s, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The harmful fibrous material has been found in metal gauze mats, designed for use with bunsen burners that have come from two, unnamed, laboratory supply companies.
The HSE said children 40 years ago could have been using the same equipment.
The body has stopped the manufacturing and supply of the mats and says the overall risk of the exposure to asbestos is low.
Studies have linked asbestos exposure to the development of later-life cancers.
The material was banned in 1999 but it was regularly used in construction in the 1950s and 60s.
Government research has found children who are exposed to asbestos are five times more likely to contract mesothelioma - a form of cancer associated with asbestos - than adults aged 30.
Symptoms usually take around 20 years post-exposure to reveal themselves.
Teachers Union, NASUWT Cymru, said staff and pupils will be deeply anxious by today's news.
It is calling for the names of the laboratory equipment suppliers to be revealed.
Pictured: The type of gauze used on bunsen burners in schools
Chris Keates, NASUWT General Secretary said:
“It is shocking that suppliers, clearly it seems only interested in profit not people, have distributed such life-threateng equipment to schools putting children and teachers and other staff at risk. It beggars belief that this situation has been allowed to happen for so long, possibly as far back as 1976.
“Whilst it is to be welcomed that the HSE Executive has highlighted this major hazard to the health of children and young people and all those who work on school sites, it is unacceptable that the two suppliers involved have not been named.
“The NASUWT believes that the suppliers must be named immediately not only to enable schools to identify if they have used the suppliers and therefore may have this potentially deadly material on site, but also so that they can be held accountable by those whose health may well have been damaged by using this equipment.
“The fact that the HSE has told these suppliers to immediately stop sending the gauze to schools, highlights the seriousness of this issue.
“Staff, pupils and parents will be deeply anxious as a result of this announcement. If schools had the names of the suppliers the anxiety and distress could be alleviated as they could confirm that they had not used these suppliers.
“There are serious questions to be asked and answered about this appalling situation, including why it has taken so long to identify that suppliers are using such hazardous materials and what action the Welsh Government intends to take to support schools in the light of this revelation, including the costs that may incurred as a result of the disposal of this material.
“I have written to the Cabinet Secretary to ask those questions.”