Deadly legacy of asbestos in Armley

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Armley Lodge is an unlikely area to be considered a substantial health risk to residents. Located close to woodland, it is a suburb of Leeds that was unfortunate enough to also be the site of an asbestos factory until the late 1950s.

Asbestos manufacturers JW Roberts Ltd (later known as Turner & Newall, or T&N) established a factory in Armley during the first half of the twentieth century. When the factory closed down in 1959, people living in the area were largely unaware of the severe health risks to which they had been exposed.

The Yorkshire Evening Post conducted an investigation into the deaths of Armley residents, particularly in the Armley Lodge area, and concluded that numerous people who had died from cancer, had links to the factory.

These deaths were in addition to the 300-plus former employees of the factory who had suffered terminal asbestos-related illness.

“A social disaster”

This was how author, Dr Geoffrey Tweedale, described what happened in Armley. Around 1,000 houses in the area are known to be contaminated by asbestos, and although T&N were obliged to contribute to the factory clean-up in the late 1970s, no funds were forthcoming to help local residents.

In fact, the claim that residential properties could have been affected by asbestos was refuted by the company. Later attempts to take them to court met with long delays which eventually led to the investigation by the Yorkshire press.

This was followed by media coverage in 1988, when Yorkshire Television broadcast a programme questioning the government’s refusal to conduct a formal inquiry into events at Armley.

The June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund

According to the June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund, set up to raise money for research into this form of aggressive cancer, there were no restrictions on children entering the factory and grounds in Armley.

They were allowed to play in the blue asbestos dust and fibres, and gathered together close to the ventilation system of the factory to stay warm in winter. Exposure to the substance also occurred in the streets of Armley, with dust and fibres described by one resident as “like fine candy floss” which settled on the streets.

It is said that when houses in the area were tested for asbestos, 90% were found to be contaminated. Although asbestos is thought to be safe when left undisturbed, this was unlikely to happen within residential properties in which owners carried out routine maintenance and DIY tasks.

Asbestos training courses can be taken online

If you carry out work on residential or commercial properties constructed prior to 2000, your employer is legally obliged to provide you with an asbestos awareness training programme. It is highly recommended that self-employed tradespeople also undertake this type of learning. UKATA online training takes around 90 minutes in total, and you can study at your own pace. An HSE asbestos certificate is available for download once the end-of-course quiz has been successfully completed.