Asbestos crisis in Northern Ireland homes

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The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) is facing crisis as hundreds of homes are found to contain asbestos. Around 5,000 properties in total could potentially be affected, with tenants warned not to access certain areas of their rented properties.

The Housing Executive states they are taking steps to remove the toxic substance, but serious health and safety issues have already arisen. Breathing in asbestos fibres can cause a range of life-changing and terminal diseases, including asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma.

Barred from entering parts of their home

The tenants involved have been informed of the risks, and instructed to stay away from certain areas of their homes. Due to the widespread use of asbestos loose-fill insulation which comprises 100% asbestos, this includes a property’s loft space.

But flooring may also be affected due to the common presence of asbestos in floor tiles and other coverings. It was also widely used in ceiling tiles, central heating systems, and in the manufacture of gutters, soffits, roofing materials and door panels.

Dangerous asbestos fibres

Microscopic asbestos fibres are easily disturbed if the materials start to disintegrate. Once airborne, the fibres can move undetected between rooms, and tenants may be unaware if they have settled on furniture and carpets.

Ulster Unionist representative, Andy Allen, said:

“The asbestos present in these properties not only causes the tenants ongoing disruption by having restrictions placed upon their household but, if disturbed, can cause severe health repercussions for people exposed to this hazardous material.”

Costly process of removing asbestos

Asbestos removal is an expensive process requiring licensed contractors to undertake specialist surveys, risk assessments, testing, and other vital health and safety procedures. Removing asbestos from so many properties will be a lengthy and costly task, and tenants may have to move out of their homes temporarily whilst the work takes place.

Mr Allen expressed concerns about the NI Housing Executive’s plans to remove asbestos from the homes – notably, whether or not they have a firm plan of action in place that covers all the necessary health and safety regulations.

A spokesperson from NIHE said:

“There are 326 properties which currently have restrictions in place. With regards to these properties the Housing Executive is in the process of arranging for this asbestos to be removed.”

Thousands of homes affected

The Belfast Telegraph reported that almost 70,000 Housing Executive homes in Northern Ireland contained asbestos, after a Freedom of Information request was made by online blog, Beyond the Pillars.

This equates to just over 70% of their entire housing stock. Accidental damage to asbestos-containing materials is a huge risk, as is the potential for fibre release during a fire, and the resultant escape of toxic fumes.

Since 2011, the cost of removing asbestos is said to have reached nearly £300,000, and involved 1,397 homes. Tenants are advised to inform the Housing Executive if they plan to undertake any maintenance or repairs to the properties. If not already carried out, an asbestos survey would be needed to establish its whereabouts.