Out of 1,100 schools tested, nearly nine in ten were identified as having asbestos present in their buildings.
Out of NI’s 1,123 schools, the BBC reports that 995 (88.6%) contain asbestos. The Department of Education released the figures in response to an Assembly question by SDLP MLA Colin McGrath who is the party’s spokesperson and a member of the all-party group on lung health at Stormont.
In response to the numbers, Mr McGrath said on Twitter: “Really important that a priority plan is put in place to deal with this. With fewer new schools and more updates to existing ones it’s imperative to schools that become building sites that we keep all safe.”
The MLA also asked the Education Minister if “she will instigate a review into the removal of asbestos from schools in Northern Ireland”. The Minister responded saying there are “no plans” for such a review, as there is a “system of management” in place in all schools to manage the asbestos risk, in accordance with in accordance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) (NI) 2012, and Health and Safety Executive advice.
The Minister’s answer states: “The system of management includes monitoring the condition of and keeping up to date records of the condition and location of any known asbestos containing materials in the school, assessing risks from the materials and making plans to manage those risks. These plans must be put into action and should any deterioration of the materials occur and based on the assessed risk, removal, repair or encapsulation must be carried out by a licensed asbestos company.
In a statement to BBC News NI, a spokesperson for the EA sought to reassure families, saying that “the health and wellbeing of our children and young people, staff and the wider school community remains our highest priority.
The spokesperson continued: “We invest over £1m annually on the identification, management, remediation or removal of asbestos.
“There are very strict processes in place for asbestos management and we work in partnership with a dedicated team of environmental specialists to ensure that all identified asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are managed in accordance with legislation and guidance.
“In the vast majority of cases, ACMs can be safely managed by enclosing, sealing, encapsulating or repairing.
“Where these remedial actions are not practical or appropriate, ACMs will be removed under controlled conditions.”