Asbestos identified in majority of schools in Northern Ireland

The vast majority of schools in Northern Ireland contain asbestos, according to the Department of Education (DE).

Out of about 1,100 schools, 975 have been identified as containing asbestos by the department.

The number and names of schools were released following an assembly question by SDLP assembly member Colin McGrath.

The Education Authority (EA) said there were "strict processes in place for asbestos management".

Asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999 because the fibres were linked to diseases including cancer.

However it can be found in many public buildings, including schools and hospitals, built or refurbished during the second half of the 20th century.

It was widely used as it had significant heat and fire retardant qualities.

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The presence of asbestos in a building can be managed, however, as fibres must be disturbed and inhaled to cause harm.

The Health and Safety Executive NI (HSENI) guidance on asbestos in buildings said that its presence alone "should not be a cause for concern".

"Asbestos only becomes a health risk when it is released into the air and breathed in," the guidance said.

But some teaching unions elsewhere in the UK have previously raised concerns about asbestos in school buildings.

A bereaved family in Northern Ireland recently told BBC News NI there should be more awareness of the risks of asbestos exposure.

'Prioritisation for removal'

According to separate guidance to schools from the EA, there are three main types of asbestos.

They are crocidolite - often referred to as blue asbestos; amosite - often called brown asbestos; and chrysotile - white asbestos.

"All three main types are hazardous, however, blue (crocidolite) and brown (amosite) are more hazardous than white (chrysotile)," the EA guidance said.

Of the 975 schools named by DE as containing asbestos, almost all contain chrysotile.

But hundreds contain amosite and more than 70 contain all three types.

Mr McGrath is a member of the Stormont all-party group on lung health, and said that had prompted his question regarding asbestos in schools.