The cost of removing asbestos from schools in Wales would make the task “wholly impractical” a new investigation has concluded.
All 22 local education authorities in Wales were asked to provide the most recent information on the scale of the problem in school buildings. Opposition party Plaid Cymru which asked for the details under the Freedom of Information Act says making schools asbestos free was likely to cost hundreds of millions of pounds.
The estimate is based on figures from local authorities such as Denbighshire which said it would cost between £6 million and £8 million to remove the asbestos in schools, while Carmarthenshire forecast the removal at £2.587 million with an additional £3 million for reinstatement.
Most councils refused to provide detailed figures. But Plaid Cymru says the scale of the problem was clear with councils like Swansea revealing that as many as 99 per cent of its 122 schools are presumed to contain asbestos.
In Monmouthshire, 70 per cent of schools had white, brown and a small number of instances of blue asbestos. Twelve high schools in Flintshire and 46 of the 74 primary schools contain asbestos. In Neath Port Talbot, 72 of the 88 schools contain asbestos material.
Newport council said it has removed asbestos from 43 schools since 1996, with 53 schools still containing it. Rhondda Cynon Taf has 131 schools identified as having asbestos-containing materials, while Vale of Glamorgan has 56 schools with various forms of the substance.
The results of the investigation were released ahead of the first meeting of the all-party group on asbestos at the National Assembly on Tuesday (January 15). Plaid Cymru education spokesman Simon Thomas, a member of the cross-party group, said the sensible approach was to make sure the asbestos was safe rather than removing it.
“It is wholly impractical to remove all asbestos from schools in Wales or anywhere else, as it would literally cost a fortune,” he said. “In the interest of safety we need to assess the risk and if it is discovered, seal, label, register and monitor – as is required under the law – to ensure there is no risk. It is only removed when it is impractical to seal it.
Actually removing it when it’s in a sealed and stable condition would in reality make it far more dangerous.” The investigation also revealed that Wales’s largest authority Cardiff has paid out £738,088 over the last decade in settlement of 26 asbestos-related claims.
There was no indication in the released documents which premises the claims related to. Meanwhile a single pay-out by Flintshire council topped £250,000.
A Welsh government spokesman said: “Asbestos is safe if undisturbed and schools should work closely with their respective local authorities to ensure that appropriate health and safety plans are in place for staff, pupils and visitors. The Health and Safety Executive has always maintained that the best approach for asbestos in sound condition and not likely to be damaged is to leave it well alone, protect it and manage it to prevent damage and exposure to asbestos.”