Discovery of asbestos in demolished building forces closure of Essex school until the New Year

As we have written about previously here at Oracle Solutions, the issue of asbestos in schools has unfortunately not gone away, even though it is now more than two decades since the importation and use of asbestos was banned in the UK.

And now, many parents, pupils and teachers in Essex have been given a stark reminder of this, a secondary school in the Essex town of Rochford having been forced to temporarily shut following the discovery of asbestos fibres in a nearby demolished building.

King Edmund School

What’s the story about the school’s abrupt asbestos-related closure?

As reported by local media, the school in question – The King Edmund School – was closed to pupils and staff on 14th November, after the Department for Education (DfE) told the school that traces of asbestos had been unexpectedly discovered in the rubble of a building demolished in May.

The revelation prompted the school to close its premises and put in place online lessons for students, with headteacher Jonathan Osborn quoted as saying by the EssexLive website that he understood and appreciated the concerns parents and students had voiced about the news.

The Government department had identified that there was a need for a new building at the school, as part of a scheme to build new schools for the future. This means it is the department that is responsible for the funding, appointment and management of contractors for the project, rather than the school itself.

Minister confirms plans to reopen asbestos-affected school in January

The Department for Education said that surveys had been undertaken ahead of the demolition, adding it had been assured that the identified asbestos would be removed in a safe way. The department had requested that the school be closed to allow for testing to be carried out on other buildings.

It was subsequently reported, on 28th November, that testing for asbestos on the premises had been completed. However, it was confirmed that the school would remain closed until January, to allow for the removal of asbestos from the site.

Setting out the news of the school’s closure into 2023, Minister of State for the Department for Education Nick Gibb said: “The school was initially closed as a precaution while we carried out enhanced testing. Testing is now complete and the school buildings are safe, but asbestos on the site of a previously demolished building remains, so the school will remain closed while it is removed.

“We are doing everything possible to ensure the school site reopens by 3 January.”

A school spokesperson stated: “We are as concerned about the situation as our parents, students and members of the local community. Our students’ safety and education are, as always, our biggest priority, and we thank parents for their continued support.”

Is asbestos still a major issue in schools in the UK?

Some observers might struggle to believe that asbestos could possibly still be a problem at a school in 2022, practically a generation after the use of asbestos in the UK was banned altogether.

But as we previously wrote about in an article of ours that focused on the general ‘state of play’ surrounding asbestos in schools, even the Department for Education has said that as of 2020, most school and college buildings in the UK still contained asbestos.

As the department said back then, “if managed actively and safely, the presence of asbestos in your school or college should not pose a risk to occupants.” However, if asbestos is in poor condition or is disturbed – as can naturally happen when a building containing asbestos is demolished – this is when the substance can pose a serious risk to human health.

On that subject, we have previously cited worrying statistics indicating that the asbestos risk in schools is very real – including that hundreds of schoolteachers have died of mesothelioma since 1980. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops in the lining covering the outer surface of some of the body’s organs, and it is very strongly associated with asbestos exposure.

Stories like this one related to the Rochford school, then, are sadly likely to keep on appearing on news websites and in newspapers for many years, even decades to come.

For more information about our own asbestos services here at Oracle Solutions, and to request a fast and free quote from us, please don’t hesitate to call us today, or to send us an email.