Asbestos fires a significant danger

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A disused building in Runcorn was recently cordoned off by the police. The former office block is known to contain asbestos, and although nobody was found inside the premises on this occasion, it has been reported that several youths were brought down from the roof.

Having potentially been exposed to asbestos, the teenagers now face a future threat to their health. Last year, two other young people were rescued from the same building, and because asbestos-containing materials are present, they were advised to see their doctors by the emergency services.

Five fire engines sent to the scene

The potential seriousness of the situation in Runcorn was underlined when five fire engines were sent to the scene by Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service. If a fire had been started inside the building, the resulting smoke and ash could have been devastating to the local area.

Police safeguarded the surrounding houses by cordoning off roads, and the footbridge to a local shopping centre. Fire fighters wore breathing equipment and protective clothing, and were ‘decontaminated’ when they came out. Paramedics standing by also had to wear dust masks as a precaution.

Infamous Ministry of Defence ‘asbestos fire’

The extreme danger of fires involving asbestos is now well-documented. A notorious fire in 1983 at the Ministry of Defence depot at Donnington, near Telford, has been linked to the deaths of two women. In total, around 15 square miles surrounding the scene were affected in the immediate aftermath.

Asbestos dust fell over the area, but at the time local residents were not warned to stay inside or close their windows. Pieces of asbestos roof were even found in nearby streets and gardens.

One of those residents, Paula Nunn, died from mesothelioma in 2015, and although the coroner recorded ‘accidental death,’ he believed that more asbestos-related deaths might be connected to the fire in future.

No warnings given to local residents

Prior to her death, Mrs Nunn had made a statement about the situation immediately after the incident, and this was read out by the coroner at her inquest,

“For two days there were no warnings that the dust was dangerous and by this time a lot had accumulated over the local area, in particular in Mrs Nunn’s back garden.”

A second death linked to the fire was that of Ellen Paddock, who died from mesothelioma in 2007 at the age of 31. She was only seven years old when the asbestos ash fell onto her garden.

A five-day delay before the streets were cleaned up caused further danger to residents, and officials denied that any asbestos had been present in the building. Those involved in the clean-up operation were provided with protective suits and masks as a precaution.

A second fire in 1988

Another fire hit the same Ministry of Defence site in 1988, with asbestos once again falling onto local houses. This time though, warnings were given for residents to close their doors and windows, and stay inside.

The long latency period associated with asbestos-related disease means that many more people could be affected by these fires – a delay of 50 to 60 years is not uncommon between exposure and illness.