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Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 06:42 GMT
Asbestos danger in school kitchens
Asbestos warning logo
The county council plans another asbestos survey
A survey of 22 school kitchens in County Durham revealed 20 of them contained damaged asbestos, a union claimed.

The asbestos discovered ranged from broken ceiling tiles to cracked plates on wall pipes, ovens and sterilisers.

Damaged asbestos can cause disease if the fibres are carried into people's lungs.

Jim Marshall, the GMB union's regional health and safety officer in the north, told BBC News Online: "The broken asbestos releases dust particles and the kitchen staff have to clean them.

"The schoolchildren could be exposed, but my main concern is for the kitchen staff, and I do not have the resources for a proper survey.

Wonder fabric

"I have no reason to think that other school buildings built before the 1970s are not just the same.

"At the time it was used asbestos was regarded as a wonder fabric."

Trevor Boggan, asbestos manager at Durham County Council, said: "We know that many council buildings do have asbestos and there is a quite a legacy there to deal with.

"Where we find it we deal with it by repair or removal."

New regulations

The union is organising a conference to educate employers about the dangers of asbestos in public buildings.

Under new regulations, which are in the process of being introduced, employers will have a duty to identify the location of asbestos in their own buildings and manage it.

The GMB and Durham County Council are jointly undertaking a second building survey of 360 kitchens across the county.

Mr Boggan said: "We had detailed discussions with the GMB and we are working closely with them.

"We encourage all staff who have a query to go through headteachers and then they can contact us."

A fast-track reporting system has been agreed and laminated leaflets have been distributed alerting people to the procedure.

Over decades, even small amounts of asbestos fibre can cause inflammation of the lungs and lung cancer or a tumour called mesothelioma can follow.

See also:

06 Nov 01 | England
Asbestos fears shut school
21 Mar 00 | A-B
Asbestos disease
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