Asbestos incidents in famous buildings around the world

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Asbestos can be found in many famous buildings worldwide, and still presents a significant danger to anyone visiting, working or living there. Although many countries have now taken action to ban the substance, asbestos removal can be a long, slow, and costly process.

Identifying where asbestos lies in these buildings is just the start, however. An ongoing process of surveys, risk assessments and monitoring over many years, involves detailed planning.

Here are just a few of the iconic buildings that have hit the news in relation to asbestos.

Buckingham Palace

The substance has been found in various places inside the Palace, including the state dining room, which had to be closed in 2015 pending remediation works. Reports suggest the overall cost to the tax payer will be around £150 million, and the complete programme of works is set to take place over the next 20 years.

As it’s almost 60 years since Buckingham Palace was redecorated, it is highly likely that much of the asbestos has degraded. Removal is costly, even for the smaller projects, and the original estimate given for works on the Palace has tripled.

House of Commons

In 2012, it was feared the House of Commons may need to be vacated when asbestos dust and fibres were discovered in air ventilation shafts. A few years earlier, a health and safety investigation found that an asbestos-lined service shaft could have released particles in the kitchen area, when an access door was not sufficiently sealed.

A 2006 report on the building had already highlighted that asbestos was present in these shafts, and warned of the danger to staff if the access doors were not secured effectively.

United Nations Headquarters, New York

The UN headquarters in New York was closed down in 2010 to allow for extensive remediation works costing around $2 billion. Asbestos was present in the ceiling plaster, floor and wall tiles, central heating systems and pipe work, and became a considerable threat to the health and safety of staff and diplomats.

Reports suggest that over 900,000 cubic feet of asbestos was removed from the building. In other words, enough blue asbestos dust to cover a football field to a depth of more than five metres.

La Scala Opera House, Milan

In 2015, four former mayors of Milan faced charges of manslaughter and grievous bodily harm after seven people who worked at La Scala opera house, including a driver, a carpenter and an opera singer, died from asbestos-related illness.

A previous asbestos scare in 2009 saw a seating area blocked off while asbestos was removed from part of La Scala’s auditorium ceiling.

Capitol Hill, Washington

The Cannon Building in Washington’s Capitol Hill Headquarters closed temporarily in October last year, after asbestos was inadvertently released during renovation.

Various asbestos-related incidents have occurred in this, the oldest congressional building, mainly in the underground passages where the heating and cooling systems are located. A 12-year renovation project began in 2015.

As can be seen from these few examples, asbestos was used on a global basis. It provided a cheap but effective answer to fireproofing and insulation problems within the construction industry, and at the time, workers knew little about the dangers they were exposed to.