Leeds woman with incurable cancer calls for action to remove asbestos
A woman is calling for asbestos to be removed from all public buildings after she was diagnosed with incurable cancer having been exposed to the material.
Rose Hall, 64, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2019, decades after unknowingly breathing in asbestos fibres as a pupil at a Leeds school.
She has backed calls from unions for asbestos to be removed within 40 years.
Asbestos is the biggest cause of work-related deaths in the UK, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
About 5,000 people a year die of illnesses caused by exposure to the building material, the HSE says.
More than 2,700 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.
Asbestos was widely used for insulation before it was banned over health concerns in 1999.
An estimated 87,000 public buildings still contain the hazardous material, according to research by legal firm Irwin Mitchell, which has represented victims in lawsuits.
A coalition of 27 trade unions this month called for all major political parties to commit to a 40-year deadline for asbestos to be removed. In a joint letter, they said:
"Asbestos is one of the great workplace tragedies of modern times and it is a national disgrace that Britain has one of the highest mesothelioma mortality rates in the world."
Nearly 81% of state schools in England still contain asbestos, according the Department for Education (DfE).
Wayne Bates, national negotiating official at the teaching union NASUWT, said under the government's current building programme it would take 400 years to rebuild every school in the country.
"To think that in 400 years' time we might still have asbestos in buildings really is completely unacceptable," he added.
More than 80% of schools still contain asbestos, according to the government.
Ms Hall's school has been demolished and rebuilt since she was a pupil, but documentary evidence showed the original building had contained asbestos.
She received compensation from Leeds City Council but her illness has forced her to stop working as an estate agent.
Ms Hall said it was "a worry" to know children were still being educated in schools "where there's this substance which is causing this awful disease".
MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee last year called for a 40-year deadline for all asbestos to be removed from public and commercial buildings.
But the government has refused to commit to the deadline, saying there was no clear evidence it would improve health outcomes.
The DfE said asbestos was "generally safe to be left in place" but it would provide guidance to schools where it needed to be removed.
Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesperson, said the government "should be acting urgently to identify and remove asbestos from high-risk areas such as school corridors and stairwells".
"Instead, schools are having to skip routine maintenance to balance the books," she added.
The Green Party said it supported calls for all asbestos to be removed from public buildings within 40 years, calling the deadline "eminently achievable".