THE Southern Education and Library Board insists that staff and pupils at Portadown College are not at risk despite the recent discovery of asbestos in the school’s staff toilet block.
Asbestos, which remains the highest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK, was found in during refurbishment work being carried out by contractors.
The area was sealed off while an investigation was carried out and the board consulted with asbestos specialists.
One source at the school said the discovery underlined the extent of the problems facing staff and pupils in a building that should have been replaced.
“The contractors were doing some work when the asbestos was discovered. Ultimately, pupils and staff weren’t at risk but it shows once again the conditions that we are having to work in,” he said.
Alderman Sam Gardiner, the Upper Bann MLA, said the discovery was deeply worrying.
He said, “I will be contacting the Southern Education Board in Armagh to find out if an audit of all school buildings has been carried out with a view to detecting asbestos. I was under the impression that an asbestos audit had been carried out across all schools and I want to establish the truth of this.”
An SELB spokesman stressed that neither staff nor pupils were exposed to asbestos.
He said, “The SELB can confirm that, in compliance with board policy, established protocols were followed in investigating whether asbestos containing materials were present in corroded heating pipes during refurbishment work in relation to the staff toilets at Portadown College. This included closing the staff toilet block and consulting asbestos specialists in investigating the matter in line with best practice guidelines. Staff were not exposed to any asbestos containing materials and pupils are not permitted to use this area in any case.”
The spokesman also admitted that a “substantial number” of its premises have asbestos containing materials (ACMs) present due to their construction date.
He added, “With regard to asbestos in schools or other board premises, the SELB operates under clear, strict and approved official guidelines which comply with legislative requirements and reflect best practice, and undertakes whatever work is required in this context regardless of resource constraints. Any asbestos still in existence in board premises, including schools, is carefully and systematically managed. It is well documented and its condition regularly reviewed under an Asbestos Management Plan. The priority at all times is ensuring that any potential risk to human health is alleviated.”