Concerns Arise as Crumbling Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) in Schools Raises Asbestos Exposure Concerns

A growing crisis looms over numerous schools in England, as their aging RAAC concrete structures pose an alarming risk of asbestos exposure.

With over 150 schools constructed using RAAC now surpassing their recommended 30-year lifespan, concerns about their safety have prompted temporary closures. What makes this situation even more concerning is the historical context: RAAC was extensively used in construction from the 1950s to the 1990s, a period during which asbestos was also commonly used before being banned due to severe health hazards.

This overlapping history raises the potential to expose asbestos containing materials during RAAC remediation efforts. Such exposure could significantly prolong the remediation process, leading to extended school closures lasting several months.
Despite the asbestos ban being in effect for more than two decades, it is still present in an estimated 300,000 non-domestic buildings throughout the UK.

It is fair to assume that not all RAAC-affected buildings are suspected of containing asbestos. However, data from the Department for Education in 2019 revealed that approximately 81% of English schools are believed to have asbestos present in their structures. In 2019 alone, the number of asbestos-related casualties exceeded 5,000, underscoring the gravity of the situation.

The primary concern here is that the process of assessing and removing deteriorating concrete panels in RAAC structures could potentially disturb asbestos materials. Such disturbances carry severe risks, as asbestos, when undisturbed, poses relatively little harm. However, when agitated, it releases fine fibers that, if inhaled or ingested, can lead to deadly conditions such as mesothelioma.

Although stringent management regulations are in place to ensure the closure of asbestos-afflicted buildings until safe removal is complete, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has raised concerns about some schools failing to maintain up-to-date asbestos registers.

Environmental Essentials have a vast amount of experience in the education sector should you require further advice on this topic.

We are also currently partnering with a national building consultancy, providing inspections for RAAC remedial projects, for more information please contact Rosie Greer