Sunday Times investigation highlights continued risk of Asbestos in UK schools

20 July 2023

The issue of asbestos still being present in school buildings throughout the UK has been the subject of much debate over the years.    Now, an investigation by the Sunday Times has uncovered that as many as 10,000 pupils, teachers and school staff in the UK have died of lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure in school buildings in the past 40 years. 

Asbestos is a building material that was commonly used from the 1930s onwards as a fire retardant and heat insulator in building construction until it was banned in 1999.  When asbestos is disturbed or dislodged, fibres are released into the air and when inhaled, can damage the lungs and lead to scarring, inflammation and, in many cases, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Mesothelioma is a devastating type of cancer almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos. The UK has the highest mesothelioma mortality rate in the world despite asbestos being banned in the UK in 1999. The average life expectancy following a mesothelioma diagnosis is around 12 months. Over 4,000 people in the UK are killed by the disease each year.

Asbestos remains present in school buildings today

The National Audit Office has found that thousands of school buildings still contain asbestos, meaning that there is a significant risk of pupils and staff being exposed to harmful fibres should it be in any way disturbed.

The Sunday Times has launched a campaign calling the government to take action to remove asbestos from schools in the next four decades which will be vital in preventing a surge of asbestos-related deaths in the coming years.  This campaign follows a similar call to action made in April 2022 by the Work and Pensions Committee which was rejected by the government last year.

Sir Stephen Timms, Chairman of the Work & Pensions Committee, who led their inquiry into asbestos last year, told the Sunday Times:

“When you mention asbestos to most people, they tend to think it was a problem of the past that’s been dealt with. When you tell them it’s still all around us, they’re surprised. When you tell them it’s the UK’s biggest work-related killer, they’re shocked. And when you tell them it’s in most of our schools, they tend to become worried.”

The time between exposure to asbestos and the development of symptoms of any related disease can frequently range from 15-50 years.  This means that sadly every day, people are still being diagnosed with asbestos-related conditions which were caused by exposure to the substance many years or even decades beforehand.  Such conditions include pleural plaques, unilateral diffuse pleural thickening, asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer with asbestosis.

At Francis Hanna & Co Solicitors, we have specialist knowledge of all asbestos-related conditions and particularly mesothelioma. We have prosecuted claims on behalf of individuals who have been exposed to asbestos throughout Northern Ireland. We have over 60 years of experience supporting mesothelioma victims and their families in relation to claims for compensation as well as other government schemes and asbestos-related benefits.

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with any asbestos related condition, please contact us on 028-90243901 or email us at