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Closure of Bloomsbury Theatre due to asbestos

University College London’s Bloomsbury Theatre has recently closed due to the discovery of asbestos within the auditorium. Construction works at the theatre in central London were already in the pipeline for the beginning of next year, but closure has happened four months sooner than expected.

As a result, alternative venues have had to be found for scheduled shows at the theatre, although UCL state that the recently constructed Studio part of the complex will continue to operate as normal.

Brown asbestos has been found

Brown asbestos, or amosite, is thought to be the second most dangerous type of asbestos. It has long thin fibres which are easily broken off, making it more likely that anyone in its vicinity will breathe them in.

Brown asbestos is known to cause severe illness including asbestosis and mesothelioma, a rare, aggressive and untreatable form of cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs. Fibres of this and other types of asbestos were uncovered within the rafters of the theatre’s auditorium when other, smaller works were taking place.

Asbestos used as a soundproofing material

As well as having fire-retardant qualities, asbestos was commonly used to soundproof auditoriums during the 1960s and 1970s. It ranks behind chrysotile, or white asbestos, as the most-used form of the substance in the construction industry from the 1950s onwards, until its ban in the UK in 1999.

White asbestos fibres are different in shape to amosite, being curly and therefore more difficult to inhale than the thin brown asbestos fibres that are like tiny needles. Because chrysotile asbestos is more flexible, it was commonly used to make ceiling tiles and products for insulation.

UCL have ordered a full asbestos removal and clean

UCL tried to reassure those involved with the building that a full clean-up will take place before reopening in the summer of 2016:

“In line with UCL’s stringent processes to manage asbestos, a full clean has been ordered ….. the recent developments and the complexity of the work mean that the works will take longer than anticipated.”

Originally opened in 1968, the Bloomsbury Theatre is the venue for UCL student productions during part of the year. For the remainder of the time, it has been the showcase for many popular shows, dramas and comedy performances.

Asbestos awareness and safe removal

The removal of asbestos can involve licensed and non-licensed work. Risk assessments are carried out to determine whether a licensed or non-licensed contractor needs to be hired to carry out any works.

UKATA online training includes these two categories of work, but an asbestos awareness course is the first step for tradespeople likely to encounter the substance during a normal working day. This could include plumbers, electricians and central heating engineers, but in general terms, anyone working on or refurbishing a property that was constructed prior to 2000 would benefit.

Asbestos training courses online are flexible and generally take around 90 minutes to complete. You will receive an HSE asbestos certificate when you pass the quiz which tests your understanding at the end of each course.