6 September 2018

Alert issued to schools after asbestos found in metal gauze mats

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued an alert to all UK schools following the discovery of asbestos in metal mesh gauze mats, designed for use over Bunsen burners.

The metal gauze mats are placed on tripods above Bunsen burners during science lessons and have a white heat-resistant pad in the centre. Testing of the heat pad showed the presence of 20-30% tremolite asbestos fibres, although asbestos was not detected in all samples. Tremolite is one of the six regulated asbestos types and is similar in appearance and properties to Amosite asbestos. It is a relatively rare type of amphibole asbestos and is found as a natural contaminant in a range of industrial minerals.

The HSE is investigating how the gauze heat mats came into circulation and have been made aware that two UK laboratory supply companies have supplied schools and potentially other users, with gauze mats containing asbestos.

A HSE spokesperson said:

“While we assess the overall risk of exposure to be low, we have taken swift action. We have ensured that both of the supply companies concerned immediately ceased supply of the gauze mats and are overseeing arrangements to contact affected customers and provide precautionary advice on how the mats should be disposed of safely.”

There is legislation prohibiting import, supply and use of asbestos in the EU (REACH) and the HSE have served enforcement notices on both companies.

The asbestos-containing gauze was originally identified during an asbestos survey in a school. Testing of the subsequent replacement mats by a UKAS accredited laboratory revealed that the new mats also contained asbestos. The school then contacted the HSE with their concerns, who initiated their investigations.

Further information, advice and guidance can be found in the full HSE press release and on their website here.