PUPILS and teachers across the UK could have been exposed to asbestos in school science labs, it is feared.

Safety chiefs said two companies supplied UK schools - including some in Scotland - with gauze mats for use with Bunsen burners that contained asbestos.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said the supply of the mats had now been stopped and the risk of exposure to asbestos was low.

The HSE is currently overseeing arrangements to ensure schools are contacted and given advice on the safe disposal of the mats.

However, it is not clear how many schools in Scotland have been affected because the HSE has not named the companies involved.

The NASUWT teaching union described the situation as “appalling”.

Chris Keates, the union’s general secretary, said: “It beggars belief that this situation has been allowed to happen.

“While it is to be welcomed that the HSE has highlighted this major hazard to all those who work on school sites, it is unacceptable that the two suppliers involved have not been named.

“The fact that the HSE has told these suppliers to immediately stop sending the gauzes to schools highlights the seriousness of this issue.”

The school-science advisory service, CLEAPSS, said customers of the companies involved would be contacted from this week onwards.

The body said: “It is safe to carry on using science rooms as usual with the exception of the use of any suspect gauzes. Deep cleaning is not required.”

An HSE spokesman said: “Although the risk of exposure is low, we took action as soon as we were informed.

“Our inspectors ensured supply of the asbestos-containing gauze mats stopped immediately.

“We got the message out as soon as possible and alerted schools, colleges and others to the issue, providing precautionary advice on how to check if they are affected and if so what to do next.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Following HSE raising this issue, the Scottish Schools Education Research Centre, which provides health and safety advice for schools and colleges, is contacting local authority health and safety representatives to take the appropriate action.

“The body will also offer further support to any schools or colleges with concerns.”