New reports show a payout by councils totaling over £10 million so far in compensations to students and schools staff members who have become ill as a result of asbestos inside school buildings.

In all, 220 people, including teachers, students, and support staff, have made claims against local authorities in the last five years.  While 99 incidents of asbestos exposure in schools were reported in the same time frame according to Freedom of Information requests made to local councils, the actual figure is believed to be significantly higher.  Campaigners suggest that schools refusing to remove the asbestos is becoming a national problem.

Rachael Reeves MP, chair of the Asbestos in Schools group, said: ”This is a ticking time bomb because very few teachers and parents know that there is asbestos in schools. The very least we should do is make sure that this information is available to them.”

Asbestos, which was a popular material to insulate ceilings, walls, and pipes throughout schools buildings in the 1960s, does not pose a risk if left undisturbed.  However, it can lead to such deadly diseases as mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer which results in more than 2,500 deaths each year.  As such, the material was banned from use within buildings in 1999, reports David Rhodes for the BBC.

In order to uncover the extent of the issue, campaigners have come together with the largest unions in Britain to join the Asbestos Timebomb campaign put in place by The Mirror in an effort to push for a national audit of the 23,000 schools located throughout the country.  The goal of the campaign is to not only determine how widespread the problem is, but also to remove the material from schools.

So far, results show a “shocking” inconsistency among local authorities, as there is no widespread approach to monitoring the asbestos situation throughout the country.  As such, some authorities are stating they did not know the number of schools that contained asbestos, while others refused to hand over information and still others claimed that it was up to the schools themselves to do something about the issue.

“87% of schools have asbestos. 319 teachers have died from mesothelioma since 1980, and 205 of these deaths have occurred since.  We do not know exactly how many adults have died because of childhood exposure to asbestos in schools but estimates have been put as high as 200-300 people each year.  These are shocking and unacceptable facts. Children and school staff are being exposed on a daily basis to this silent killer,” said Amanda Brown, Assistant General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT).

In all, at least 12,600 council-run schools are known to contain asbestos.  That figure does not include schools that have been turned into academies.

Brown went on to say that it is up to the Government to develop and implement a plan for the removal of the deadly material from school buildings in order to protect future generations of students and staff members.

In response to the issue, the Government has said the asbestos should be left within the buildings.  Education Secretary Justine Greening noted that while sometimes the material is removed, experts do suggest in a number of cases to leave the material alone.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Department for Education stated that £23 billion will be invested into school buildings by 2021 in order to protect the health and safety of children and staff members.  The additional funding will be used in order to ensure that any asbestos within school buildings is managed in a safe manner, with the goal of reducing the total amount found in school buildings across a period of time.