Deadly asbestos lurked in teacher's cupboard

A FORMER Ratton School teacher died of cancer likely to have been caused by asbestos in the school, an inquest found.

Neville Beck, who was Head of History at Ratton between 1972 and 1997, found out he had a particularly nasty form of cancer – for which there is no treatment or cure – two years ago.

He died in April of this year aged 71.

An inquest into his death, held at Eastbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday, heard how the teacher and father-of-one, who lived in Kings Drive, Eastbourne, was aware there had been asbestos in the school and before his death had found evidence. In a witness statement he gave while he was ill which was read out at the inquest, Mr Beck explained there was a store cupboard with shelves made of asbestos in the classroom where he was based for the majority if the 25 years he worked at the school.

He used the cupboard daily, picking up and putting down books and paperwork on the asbestos shelves.

Mr Beck remembered dust but noted blackboard chalk dust could have masked some of the dust from asbestos. The cupboard was kept locked so never cleaned.

The coroner, Alan Craze, noted that more than 90 per cent of cases of mesothelioma, the type of cancer Mr Beck had, are caused by exposure to asbestos.

Although no asbestos fibres were found in an initial examination of a tissue sample taken from one of Mr Beck's lungs, the coroner said, 'on a balance of probability', he thought Mr Beck had 'an industrial disease'.

The inquest found the cause of death was a blood clot caused by a 3.5cm tumour.

After the inquest Mr Beck's widow, Susan Beck, a retired Cavendish School teacher, said when her husband found out he had the rare form of cancer, he 'couldn't believe it'.

She explained that he had been for a check-up as he was short of breath and how when he had fluid drained from his lungs, doctors discovered the untreatable cancer, likely to have been caused by exposure to asbestos.

In a statement, a spokesperson for East Sussex County Council, the education authority responsible, said, "We would like to pass on our deepest sympathy to the family of Mr Beck and also reassure parents that East Sussex County Council is committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for our employees and pupils.

"We take our responsibilities for asbestos management very seriously and follow statutory Health and Safety Executive guidance.

"All ESCC owned and occupied buildings, including schools, are surveyed on a regular basis by specialist licensed consultants.

"Where the presence of asbestos is identified in any of our buildings it is removed or encapsulated through a controlled and managed process to minimise risk in accordance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006."

How asbestos kills

ASBESTOS is a naturally occurring mineral. The Greeks, who named it, called it the miracle mineral because of its ability to withstand heat. From the late nineteenth century it was used in building materials due to its fire resistant properties and was popular until the 1980s when it was realised it was toxic. It was banned by the European Union in the mid 1980s.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the country. The government says every week it causes the deaths of three plumbers, 20 tradesmen, six electricians and six joiners.