Gardens contaminated by white asbestos

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Residents in a village near Leicester have appealed to the local council to take action over asbestos contamination in their gardens. The contamination incident happened when the roofs of several lock-up garages nearby were jet-washed in April this year.

A nearby railway embankment was also affected, but Network Rail acted quickly to remove the asbestos fibres from their site. Chrysotile, or white asbestos, was widely used in roofing materials prior to its ban in 1999, and the substance must have degraded over time. The power of jet-washing will have dislodged asbestos particles, dispersing them over the area nearby.

Residents had commissioned an asbestos contractor to test and analyse these particles, which also landed on sheds and fences in the area. The contractor was able to confirm the substance as asbestos and said it should be removed, but the council have taken no action for more than five months.

Serious health and safety issues for residents

Due to their highly carcinogenic nature, asbestos fibres can give rise to life-threatening illnesses if inhaled. In fact, asbestos is currently the cause of around 2,500 mesothelioma deaths a year.

Mesothelioma is a particularly aggressive form of cancer, attributed solely to asbestos exposure. Although there are several forms of the disease, the most common affects the outer lining of the lungs.

Other life-changing asbestos diseases include asbestosis, pleural plaques, and pleural thickening, which can cause long-term breathing difficulties and a chronic cough.

Why has the council taken so long to deal with the situation?

There has been some confusion as to why the council have failed to act as quickly as Network Rail, who dealt with the problem shortly after the incident occurred. Some worried residents decided to approach Public Health England for help and guidance when the council failed to take remediation measures at the 15 properties.

The body advised them to avoid cutting their lawns, and to keep children and pets away from the contaminated areas. Director of Services at Oadby and Wigston Borough Council, Anne Court, commented:

“We have been working closely with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Public Health England and the owners of the garages to resolve this issue and we have kept in close contact with the affected residents.”

Asbestos training for council employees and bosses

Anyone who has undergone asbestos awareness training will understand why a situation like this needs to be dealt with urgently. This type of training covers the actions that should be taken in an asbestos emergency, as well as the potential consequences of failing to act quickly.

The pervasive nature of asbestos means that once it is inhaled, the body finds it almost impossible to rid itself of the particles. The sharp and brittle nature of asbestos fibres causes them to become embedded in the membranes around the lungs, setting up disease later in life.

Although many people associate asbestos training with tradespeople and professionals involved in construction, awareness training could also help council bosses and their employees in dealing with asbestos emergencies.

Image of white asbestos shown

By Ra’ike (see also: de:Benutzer:Ra’ike) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6607105