The British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) and the professional body for asbestos scientists the Faculty of Asbestos Assessment and Management (FAAM) are calling are calling for an urgent review of how asbestos in buildings is managed.
Alarming new research
This follows new research published jointly by the National Organisation of Asbestos Consultants (NORAC) and the Asbestos Testing and Consultancy (ATAC). Its findings were revealed at an event in Parliament sponsored by the Res Publica think tank. BOHS believes this is the largest study in the world of asbestos in buildings. The researchers found that the asbestos left in place in many public buildings and homes, including social housing, is not being managed effectively. This is alarming because it means the asbestos may be in an unsafe condition.
The chair of NORAC, Jonathan Grant, says, “We weren’t looking for this, but the figures leapt out at us. Almost two thirds of UK sites, based on a million samples taken over six months, showed that the asbestos left in the buildings as “safe” was actually now in a damaged state. When asbestos is damaged, it may create a risk to occupants, releasing fibres. If these are inhaled, they can lead to irreversible cancer.”
Asbestos remains in a lot of buildings
Asbestos was banned in 1999 but between the 1950s and the 1980s it was widely used in buildings. It was a cheap way of providing insulation and fireproofing. But it also had a range of other uses. Recent restoration work in Parliament had to be halted because of the discovery of asbestos. Earlier this year, MPs called for asbestos to be removed from all UK buildings within 40 years. However, this was before the shocking findings in the new research.
You can leave asbestos in place and just lock the door behind it
Professor Kevin Bampton, CEO of BOHS, says, “It’s an impossible situation. Developers, social housing landlords, schools and hospitals don’t want to pay to have asbestos removed from property, but their management strategies are not working. At the moment, you can leave asbestos in a part of the building and just lock the door. That counts as managing the risk.”
The UK has the biggest problem in Europe
The UK government has admitted that Britain has the biggest problem in Europe. Whereas Some European countries are moving ahead with a plan to remove all asbestos, the UK government has said the scale of the problem here would make this option too expensive. So the UK population will get less protection.
Asbestos in social housing
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is currently undertaking an inspection of asbestos in schools. However, it does not have the remit to look at asbestos in social housing. The NORAC/ATAC report highlighted the risk of managed asbestos in social housing as an area of particular concern. BOHS is calling on the government to give the HSE regulatory responsibility for the Social Housing sector.
in 100 years’ time people will still be dying from asbestos exposure
Professor Bampton says, “The government has rejected the Select Committee’s target of removing asbestos in 40 years. Even that target would mean that it will be two generations before kids can go to school without any risk of exposure to asbestos. And it will be 100 years before the last person dies of asbestos-related cancer. We are sending people up on roofs to fix solar panels and insulation, not knowing how many of them will be inhaling asbestos fibres that will kill them in a few decades time.”
Speaking for Asbestos Support Central England, its manager Neil Bishop said, “As time goes by the asbestos left in buildings will deteriorate more and more. So this is a problem that will only get worse if the asbestos is not removed. That’s why we are calling for zero asbestos in all publicly owned buildings.”
For more information: https://www.bohs.org/media-resources/press-releases/detail/managed-asbestos-in-hospitals-schools-and-homes-is-a-timebomb/
Photo by Michael Nunzio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/warning-sign-on-wire-fence-4189458/