Lawyer responds to claims by leading cancer professor that asbestos should be left in schools

A leading asbestos lawyer has said she is ‘incredulous’ after a cancer expert told Sky News that trying to take asbestos out of schools is not advisable despite agreeing that each year 20 to 30 children will breathe in asbestos fibres which will kill them in decades to come.

Asbestos lawyer Harminder Bains, whose own father died from the asbestos related cancer mesothelioma, said that no child should be exposed to the deadly material and to not take action was like leaving an unexploded bomb under our schools.

Asbestos was used for insulation and fire protection in a many schools and other buildings before it was banned in 1999. It has been proven to cause a range of diseases decades after being breathed in, including mesothelioma.

Professor Peto, Cancer Research UK Chair of Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Institute of Cancer Research, told Sky News that children today face a risk from asbestos 10 times lower than it was 50 years ago, meaning 20 to 30 children will breathe in asbestos fibres this year which will eventually lead them to die from asbestos related disease.

Prof Peto argues that calls to remove asbestos from schools could release more asbestos fibres into the environment.

Harminder Bains joint-head of the industrial diseases team at Leigh Day, said:

“I am incredulous that Professor Peto could accept the fact that our schools are sentencing children to a painful death sentence every year, yet he says we should not take measures to get rid of the cause.

“To not take the appropriate action is to leave asbestos, like an unexploded bomb under our schools, leading to the painful deaths of hundreds in older age.

“With the latest technology and the right expertise, asbestos can be removed as it is from the Houses of Parliament, are children’s lives less important than MPs? Parents need to be able to send their children to school without worrying whether they will be exposed to one of the world’s most deadly materials.”

Trade unions representing school workers have formed a joint union asbestos committee which is calling on the government to fund a phased removal of all asbestos from schools.

Chairman John McClean responded to Prof Peto's findings, asking: "There's no central database of where asbestos is and what condition it's in, so he's making a presumption based on what?"