Six million tonnes of asbestos are still inside 1.5million buildings in the UK including hospitals and eight out of 10 schools, according to a report.
Think-tank ResPublica has urged the Government to reform its policies in order to save teachers and nurses from asbestos related deaths.
The toxic material was once used for insulation and fireproofing but can lead to serious cases of lung disease and cancer, particularly mesothelioma, if inhaled.
Although the use of asbestos was banned 20 years ago, anything built or refurbished before 1999 may still contain it.
Experts now say that some people are constantly breathing in small amounts which can add up over time to cause serious health damage.
And teachers and nurses are at higher risk of developing deadly cancers because the buildings they work in have so much asbestos in them, the report said.
It called for the ‘phased removal’ of the lethal substance in all buildings, rather than leaving it undisturbed, which is current policy in many places.
Since 1980, there have been almost 300 recorded deaths from mesothelioma among teachers in the UK.
Overall, more than 5,500 workers died from asbestos-related diseases last year, figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show.
Most of these were due to exposure prior to 1980, the HSE says.
However, the report stressed that asbestos is not a historical problem simply because the material was banned 20 years ago.
It said: ‘It cannot be stressed enough in this report that mesothelioma – the form of asbestos-related disease with the highest death count on record – is one which does not require high-level exposure in order to cause harm.
‘Asbestos now represents a different kind of danger through continuous low levels of exposure.
‘It is a secondary risk, analogous to passive smoking, which although less concentrated and less localised, could place far more people in harm’s way.
‘This includes all those that work, or spend considerable time, in public buildings. ‘
It added: ‘The ban, while it might have served as an emollient to the harm caused by asbestos, came nonetheless too late to prevent harms associated with existing buildings.
‘The reality is that children in schools could be exposed from an early age. We do not know how many have subsequently died in the UK from exposure to asbestos as a pupil in school.
‘Asbestos is still with us, hazardously deteriorating each year, out of sight and out of mind.’ The report said the task of managing asbestos in public buildings particularly needs a strong response from the Government.