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Asbestos in Schools

Asbestos in Warm Air Heating systems
Cwmran School


.900 children were evacuated from Cwmcarn School in Wales last month when an asbestos report was presented to the council. The report has been published on line.

There is extensive asbestos insulating board (AIB) debris in the ceiling voids, AIB walls are damaged, other AIB is unsealed and there are AIB panels in heater cabinets in two classrooms. Air sampling gave levels of 0.003 f/ml to 0.007 f/ml. Swab tests in four classrooms and the stairwell found asbestos fibres in the dust.  The samplers on the contractors carrying out an environmental clean recorded levels of 0.03, 0.06 and 0.07 f/ml. 

Heating cabinets similar to the ones at Cwmcarn were common in schools and also flats and, as can be seen, are still in use.

The problem of asbestos fibre release from this form of heating has been known about since 1981. In 1982 HSE issued a warning that amosite fibres can emitted into the classrooms from the heaters.  Air sampling carried out in “rooms served with by warm-air heaters whose ducts were lined with Asbestolux” found a level of 0.025 f/ml. (1) In other tests levels up to 0.06f/ml were measured. (2) It must therefore be questioned why some thirty years later heaters at Cwmcarn were still in place and releasing asbestos fibres into the classroom.

Forced warm air heatingwas a common form of heating in system built schools from the early 1950s and Andrews Weatherfoil was one of the leading makes. The heating cabinets are either built into the wall or are free standing. Fans suck air into the room, pass it over heating elements and emit the hot air through grilles back into the room again. (3)

The cabinets were lined with unsealed AIB and the baffles to deflect the air were AIB. The remedial actions suggested in the 1980s was either to remove the AIB or to seal it, schools were warned that damage could release asbestos fibres. A book on post war schools states: “The cabinets were bulky, the fan motors noisy, and the apparatus needed regular cleaning if it was to function properly; later on, naughty children bent the bars on the fronts of the grilles.” (4) There are doors to gain access for cleaning and servicing and it is known that children also gained access to the cabinets. (5) TheCLASP asbestos handbook gives details of the heater baffles and casing, and states: “if damaged, fibres can be readily circulated...”(6)   In one school where heating cabinets were installed there was dust containing asbestos on the pupils’ desks every morning blown from the heaters. (7) It is disgraceful that in 2011 schools are still heated with the system of heating.

 Warm air ducted heating.  Note: “If damaged, fibres can be readily circulated.”

Asbestos in warm air heating systems

  1. HSE (1983) Asbestos in warm air heating systems. (Revised) LAAIC/C 3/5 Health and Safety Executive.
    Bootle, U.K.
  2. Letter HM Principal Inspector of Factories to Principal architect CLASP ADP/SNC/03 23 Oct 1981
  3. Towards a social architecture. The role of school Building in Post War England. Andrew Saint 1987 p85,86.  Richards/ Lees 16 Apr 10. Marks of CLASP system in detail. Marks 2,3, 3b Services, heating.
  4. Towards a social architecture. The role of school Building in Post War England. Andrew Saint 1987 Lyng Hall. p 86
  5. Lees personal communication Feb 2011
  6. Scape CLASP asbestos handbook Asbestos in CLASP standard details. P11 para 1.02
  7. Lees personal correspondence Sep 11