Why has there been significant delay in starting works at Cwmcarn to seal / remove the asbestos?
In November 2012 the Council planned to commission a comprehensive 'invasive survey' following the school's temporary move to Ebbw Vale.
The survey was required to identify all asbestos debris and Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) within the premises and advise on the range of options available to remediate the site including costs.
Although the survey was due to commence week commencing 24 November 2012, this was put back as the Governing Body provided the site to HSL to undertake scientific research sampling.
Therefore, the invasive survey was rescheduled for the 6th December 2012. However on the 4th December 2012, the Chair of Governors wrote to the Council on behalf of the Governing Body refusing permission for this to proceed. Abortive costs were incurred as a result.
Within the letter from the Chair, the Council were informed that the Governors had been advised to progress their own review of the condition of asbestos at the site. The school were strongly advised to allow the Council to progress the asbestos survey so that the required capital works could be costed and put forward to Council for consideration. However, permission was not granted.
The independent report commissioned by the school Governors was provided to the Council on the 17th January 2013. The main recommendation of the report was to undertake an asbestos survey in order to determine the required remediation works. In a letter to the school's legal advisors on the 17th January 2013, the Council urged the school to commission this survey as soon as possible.
This survey was completed on Friday 22nd February and is currently being written, the Council will provide the school with funding to cover the cost of this survey.
The Council has contacted the company to request a date when the school are likely to receive the report, there has been no response to date, however from initial timescales provided it is anticipated that this is likely to be received w/c 11th March.
The action taken by the Governors back in December 2012 has resulted in a significant delay in progressing the required survey and options appraisal of the site
The temporary closure of the school on 12 October 2012, was an interim closure to allow investigations to be undertaken to determine the extent of contamination and the remediation works required. This was the understanding of Council when it agreed substantial funding to permit the school to be moved temporarily to the Ebbw Vale site.
Why haven't the findings of the recent HSL report on behalf of the HSE been acted upon?
Although the Council is not the owner of the school premises, it has a duty of care under the 'Education Act' to the pupils receiving education at Cwmcarn. In addition, insurance cover for Employers, Occupiers and Public Liability as well as Professional Indemnity for Governors is provided under the Council's group insurance cover for schools. In relation to asbestos there is a legal duty to ensure that asbestos fibre levels, in air, are kept as low as is reasonably practicable.
The HSL report concentrated on levels of airborne asbestos fibres present, after the school had been empty for seven weeks. The wider risk of the extensive debris present at the school, and the effect of full occupation of the building with this debris remaining in place, is not addressed in the HSL Report.
The HSE only investigated health and safety legislation compliance and any decision on whether the school should reopen rests with the Governing Body and the Council.
It is the view of the Council that reoccupation of the school in its current condition would breach its duty of care and would expose occupants to a health risk and the Council to an uninsured risk.
Where do responsibilities lie for the current situation?
The Council does not own the premises at Cwmcarn. The fact remains, Governors own the site and are responsible for maintenance of the premises as duty holder.
The Governors are legally responsible for the health and safety of the staff they employ at the school and the day to day health and safety of children within the premises, as well as contractors and visitors working on/or attending the school site.
Why is a further 'independent view' being commissioned?
Due to the duty of care owed and for the purpose of clarity, the differing opinions provided in the various reports need to be assessed and the results of this further analysis used to inform the decision making process.
The commissioning of this further study has not delayed the management survey or the preparation of the options appraisal.
What is being done to help stop pupils moving from Cwmcarn High School to other local schools in the area?
The local authority cannot prevent parents from applying and registering their children at other schools. However, the Council is working with the school to resolve the school site issues as quickly as possible.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is often described in terms of colour - white, blue and brown. Brown asbestos or Amosite is an "amphibole" and poses a greater risk than other types of asbestos due to its fibrous properties.
Asbestos fibres are strong and resistant to heat and chemicals. They do not evaporate into the air or dissolve in water. This means that asbestos was ideal to use in things such as insulation material, fire prevention boards and asbestos cement roofing.
This all means that asbestos is found everywhere in our environment and there is evidence to suggest that we are all exposed to and inhale a small number of asbestos fibres every day.
Importation, supply and use of asbestos has been banned in the UK since 1999 because of the possible harms. However, people may still be exposed to existing asbestos-containing materials due to its widespread use in the past.
What happens when we inhale asbestos fibres?
The size and shape of the asbestos fibre appear to play a major role in their toxicity, as both affect the capacity of the lung to effectively remove them from the body. For example, longer fibres are cleared much slower thereby being retained in the lungs for longer periods.
Asbestos is generally not considered to be acutely toxic. However, short-term high-level and chronic low-level inhalation exposure to asbestos has been associated with lung cancer, mesothelioma and pleural disorders such as pleural plaques. Chronic high dose exposure may cause asbestosis. Such effects may be observed following a latency period of approximately 30 years.
Are there guidelines for exposure to asbestos?
Asbestos guidelines tend to relate to people who work in jobs where they are exposed to asbestos, so for example, as in asbestos removal. The Health and Safety Executive sets occupational exposure limits for these people.
The World Health Organisation indicates background asbestos fibres in urban air to be in the region of 0.0001 to 0.001 fibres/ml. Studies indicate background fibre counts in schools to be around 0.0005 fibres/ml. (For the sake of consistency we have referred to fibres/ml which is equal to fibres/cm3)
What will happen to me if I have inhaled asbestos?
All of us inhale small amounts of asbestos every day. It is very unlikely that the general population will inhale large enough amounts of asbestos over a long enough period of time to cause health problems.
Breathing in large amounts of asbestos over a long period of time (many years) may affect the lungs, causing asbestosis. Asbestosis is when breathing becomes difficult and the heart is enlarged. Breathing in moderate amounts of asbestos over a long period (many years) may lead to mesothelioma or lung cancer.
Being in contact with someone or something that has been in contact with asbestos, especially in the short term, is unlikely to cause harm.
Is asbestos found in the general environment?
Asbestos minerals are widespread in the environment. They may be found in the soil due to erosion of asbestos-bearing rock. Asbestos fibres may enter the atmosphere due to the erosion of natural asbestos-containing ores or damage to asbestos-containing products including insulation; car brakes and clutches, ceiling and floor tiles and cement.
Asbestos at Cwmcarn High School - the background
At the request of the Local Authority, Public Health Wales, Aneurin Bevan Health Board and the Health Protection Agency have been working together to assess the public health risks associated with the potential asbestos exposure at Cwmcarn High School.
Caerphilly County Borough Council received advice following a review of the available results of samples taken from the school environment between 22nd September 2012 and 5th October 2012. The majority of the asbestos levels measured within the school were in the range of 0.003 to 0.008 fibres/ml.
This would suggest an excess lifetime cancer risk in the order of <0.01 to 0.15 per thousand individuals if they were exposed to these levels over a five year period.
Taking a more conservative, worst case scenario, the excess lifetime cancer risk would be 0.2 to 1 case per thousand individuals over a 5 year period.
This assessment, based on the available data, assumes that exposure takes place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week over a 5 year period. Pupils and staff are on the school site for a far shorter period than this.
Taking into account all the available information, the health risk from potential asbestos exposure to pupils and staff at the school is considered to be low, albeit slightly elevated.
If the risk is low, why was the school closed so quickly?
The health, safety and wellbeing of pupils and staff is paramount. The council responded swiftly to the risks identified by a specialist contractor when information was received on the afternoon of Friday 12th October.
The council was advised to "consider immediate 'Prohibited Access' to the school as a result of the continued risk of exposure to asbestos fibres and look at the abatement/demolition of Cwmcarn High School, due to the implicated costs of continuing to operate without further risk of exposure."
It is important to note that the decision taken to close the school was not a response to an asbestos related incident. The decision was taken to assess and reduce any potential future exposure to asbestos, thereby protecting the health and wellbeing of pupils and staff at the school.
Where is the asbestos in the school?
There is asbestos product present in the construction of school buildings apart from the Music and Drama Block C and the Languages wing. Asbestos was a common building material at the time of the school's construction and is present throughout the site. The majority of asbestos product is sealed and in good condition, however, some debris was discovered in voids and some asbestos product is unsealed and/or has some damage. Both of these conditions give rise to the potential for asbestos fibre release.
What type of asbestos is it?
The majority of asbestos product and debris within the school contains Amosite which is commonly known as "brown" asbestos. Amosite is an "amphibole" and poses a greater risk than other types of asbestos due to its fibrous properties.
Have surveys been undertaken on the school buildings for asbestos?
Asbestos surveys have been undertaken in all Caerphilly schools including Cwmcarn High since 2003, as required by the Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002. These regulations required visual surveys which would not have covered ceiling and roof voids. The legal standards for asbestos surveying have increased with revisions of asbestos regulations in 2006 and again in 2012. This has resulted in a number of more detailed surveys of premises being required highlighting a more comprehensive picture of asbestos at the school.
How long is the school likely to be closed?
Due to the concerns that have been identified, it is anticipated that the affected buildings on the school site will be closed for the foreseeable future.
How much will it cost to address the asbestos problems at the school?
The council estimates that remediation and reinstatement works for asbestos removal would cost millions of pounds. We are currently considering options about the best way to address the issues that have been identified at the site.
What about Cwmcarn Leisure Centre, how long will this remain closed?
As the Leisure Centre is connected to the school buildings, we have taken the precautionary measure of closing the facility while we investigate whether there are any risks. The council has been working with local sports clubs to identify alternative venues for their activities.
How will I know if I am likely to develop health effects from exposure to asbestos?
Symptoms associated with asbestos exposure often take 20 to 60 years to develop. These are common symptoms such as cough, breathlessness or chest pain. Any illness is dependent on a high enough exposure over a long enough period of time.
Can I be tested to find out if there are any health impacts?
There are no tests for asbestos exposure in people who are fit and well.
Asbestos related diseases usually take many years to manifest. Furthermore there are no clinical tests to identify asbestos exposure apart from long term evidence of damage caused by fibres within the lungs.
Should I go to see my doctor?
Generally there is no need for you to see your Doctor, however if you have concerns you may wish to seek advice from your local GP or NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.