Council-commissioned air survey of the former Turner Brothers Asbestos site that cost £26,000 of public money is a 'missed opportunity', say Save Spodden Valley campaigners

Date published: 03 October 2017

The council-commissioned air survey of the former Turner Brothers Asbestos site in Spodden Valley cost £26,000 of public money, a special Spotland and Falinge Area Forum on Monday (2 October) heard.

The two-hour meeting was opened by Philip Massey, chairman of the Area Forum, who was joined by Nicola Rogers and Gary Finch from Rochdale Borough Council, and two representatives from Bureau Veritas, Simon Hodge and John Carrington, who conducted the air monitoring.

Ms Rogers gave a short overview of the findings, which identified the discovery of only one asbestos fibre containing ‘brown’ and ‘blue’ asbestos from a sample taken at Harridge Avenue on 16 February 2016.

Testing took place at various locations around the site on a monthly basis between August 2015 to March 2017 and was split into in two phases using two different types of analysis. 103 samples were taken in total.

Ms Rogers concluded the findings, saying: “We are satisfied the monitoring was adapted to the circumstances because we extended and increased the monitoring programme.

"We accept there is no safe level of airborne asbestos. World Health Organisation states that fibre levels below 0.0005 fibres per millimetre are not of significant risk and that is the level of detection for phase two, where we did not find any fibres for samples that were tested at that time.

“There doesn’t appear to be any evidence to suggest there is any significant risk to health of those living or working in the area around the Turner Brothers Asbestos site.

"Both the Council and Bureau Veritas are quite satisfied we did a robust survey, different analytic methods. We are satisfied if there was a significant fibre from the site, our sampling programme would have shown that.”

After a question from resident Nigel Morell, speaking on behalf of residents in Norden, Ms Rogers admitted the report had cost a staggering £26,000; a figure met by whistles from the public.

Jason Addy, of the Save Spodden Valley Campaign, commented: “Now we have found out £26,000 of public money has been spent – £26,000 that is much needed in Rochdale – 12-years ago, our suggestion was air-monitoring, four-season baseline monitoring, paid for by the landowner. What a missed opportunity.”

Mr Addy pointed out ‘precipitation and rain can reduce fibre levels by up to 95%’ before asking: “Would it have been possible to improve detection limits? Were there techniques available?"

Mr Hodge responded: “Technically, it could be improved through increasing sample volumes with the amount of air pulled through the filter, but it starts to become a practical self-limiting volume because of air pollution, that material in an urban atmosphere starts to obscure ability to detect fibres not seen by naked eye.” 

Mr Addy read out a line from the air sample report, in which it is stated that “it was not possible to improve detection limits because of your UKAS accreditation.”

He went on to say that over 12 years ago, it was submitted that HSG248 ‘isn’t good enough to detect ‘exceedingly low levels of environmental asbestos exposure’.

“I appreciate you are limited because of the UKAS accreditation the way in which you do things per your rules, but I submit the answer is yes, detection limits could have been vastly increased. This was the bog-standard used: this site deserved special attention,” he added.

Mr Addy referred to a report from 2005, saying they wanted to suggest the consideration of the following analytical techniques: higher volumes of air, reduced area for sample heads, and industry-recognised microscopy methods, such as TDM, EDXA, SAED.

He said: “It is alluded to in the report that Bureau Veritas had to stick to the basic methods because of the accreditation.

"For 12-and-a-half years, we have wanted to come to the table and have this dialogue. The detection and sensitivity would have been hundreds of times more sensitive than what is in your report.”

Mr Hodge noted that the methods suggested by Mr Addy were expensive; Ms Rogers added the detection limits were reduced.

When asked if the report formed any basis of the methodology, it then emerged that the Council had no knowledge of the aforementioned report.

Bureau Veritas’ representative Mr Hodge explained monitoring on a continual basis was not feasible for the site: due to other particulates in the air that can attach to the filter used, the quality of any fibres found can degrade.

The industry-standard method used in the monitoring allowed air to circulate through a small filter of around 25mm in diameter, for a set period of time. The methodology is approved by HSE as ‘being appropriate to capture asbestos fibres in the atmosphere.’

Resident Tim said: “I did not realise it was such a short window of time.”

He sighed: “It is a small area so it does not really put my mind at ease.”

A second resident, Delwyn Bale, raised the issue that the samples covered just 0.7% of the hours when sampling could have taken place. The sampling spanned 578 days: the samples covered approximately 103 hours of a possible 13,872.

He added: “0.7 of a percent, and still you found one fibre. Is that not alarming? One asbestos fibre next to the biggest asbestos factory in the world.”

Mr Hodge replied: “Nobody is disputing there is asbestos on the site. I think the sampling was robust to determine whether or not there was asbestos in the atmosphere.”

Samples were not taken during heavy rain ‘as this would not give a true representation’ and taken obtained during normal working-hours in dry, windy conditions.

Mr Bale then pointed out that samples were missed due to sickness, and asked about a contingency plan to cover the sickness. He was told this did not detract from the survey or results.

It was confirmed weather data from the time each sample was logged from a Met station, including wind speed and direction. Bureau Veritas confirmed meteorological date logged is available.

One resident said she felt ‘the whole thing feels like it has not been done properly’ commenting it needed ‘more data, more frequent monitoring, with more locations’.

Another resident wondered: “If one fibre was found, there must be a risk. Can detection times be co-ordinated to the time that fibre was found? Can it be targeted more to conditions and the weather?”

He was reassured conditions could be looked at and identified.

Hilda Palmer, Co-ordinator of the Greater Manchester Hazards Centre (GMHC), commented she was concerned about the site after becoming involved a number of years ago: “I am very concerned and worried that so many years on, the work that has been done does not seem to have been taken into account. I am really concerned a lot of good work by good people trying to improve the situation and work with the council and elected representatives and officers has been thrown in the bin – and no-one seems to know about it.

“I do not think we’re much further than 12 years ago. I am shocked.”

She added: “We have been here before with the first site survey, I think we should be very clear all this establishes at the time the sampling was taken, one fibre was found. It says nothing if the site is disturbed.”

A cry of “hear, hear” went up before talk turned to the TBA Working Party, which used to report to Townships each year. It was confirmed this will be looked into and a response issued to Mr Addy.

Mr Addy added: “We are here to listen and offer information we have at hand that we’ve worked with for nearly 13 years.”

Ms Palmer agreed: “We have a heavily contaminated site that has to be dealt with safely and it is very clear we have to move forward. It has to be built on the foundations of all the work done by people who really know about this.

“The clearest possible assurances need to be made to matters of public health."

Mr Morrell offered: "We have a perfectly valid model for dealing with asbestos in Hebden Bridge, the former site was capped over and allowed to naturalise. One benefit of this is the asbestos is locked in the ground by tree roots and other herbaceous developments and is therefore safer." 

It also emerged that the site, once home to the largest asbestos textiles factory in the world, is actually not legally classed as a declared contaminated site.

Mr Addy explained: “The reason it is not classed as contaminated is there is a government circular that goes back to 2000 that states if a site that could have contamination on it has the possibility, or is in the pipeline to be developed, then you go down the development route.

“There are 40,000 tons of evidence on site, but there is this bizarre situation where legally it is not classed as contaminated land.”

Mr Addy produced a draft report dating back to 2004 by Paul Bradford, the then-contaminated land officer at Rochdale Borough Council. He read out the title: 'Record of the determination that the land is contaminated land.'

Mr Addy explained: “He is saying the land fulfils all the criteria for contaminated land. There is the document that states all the evidence in the world. You could have done this in 2004: you did not because there was talks of a new site owner and there was going to be a planning opportunity. There was not at the time when this was drafted; Rochdale Council had every opportunity to declare it contaminated land and force the landowner to deal with it.

“13 years later, we are at an impasse, where we are saying to each other ‘we can not do anything about it’. You could have done a great deal about it, but that did not happen.”

Ms Rogers promised to look into this and issue a response to Mr Addy.

Mr Addy also mentioned a document, paid for by the taxpayers, which has not been distributed, regarding legal advice.

He said: “I have got a question regarding a piece of legal advice Rochdale Council paid for. A few years ago, it was reported in the council remits that went to the Cabinet then the full Council, that Rochdale Council was going to go halves on a £400k site investment survey.

“The QC was brought in and a barrister’s opinion given to the council about their responsibilities about what they should and should not do with the site owner. Please can we read it? We paid for it. That is paid for by the taxpayers of Rochdale that we can not read.”

Ms Rogers responded it was ‘legally privileged’ information and will report back.

The Bureau Veritas report has been shared with Public Health England, who Ms Rogers says were ‘supportive of the findings’.

Bureau Veritas remain ‘on standby’ for further air sampling in case of any incidents, such as another fire, with a response time of 90 minutes across any borough in Greater Manchester, with accredited-asbestos analysts on site within four hours. Results would follow shortly after.

Residents were also assured that site-specific emergency procedures are in place with the Council and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service in the event of a similar incident, or collapse of a derelict building.

Ms Rogers stressed she has repeatedly informed the landowners through their representatives it is their responsibility “for managing the buildings, the asbestos within the buildings and ensuring there are no intruders or incidents”.

She also clarified that the Council has yet to receive the landowner’s site survey results by RSK, nor have they given any indication of when this may be. The Council have also asked, on numerous occasions, for the buildings to be surveyed and say they cannot enforce action.

Ms Palmer supplemented: “It shows an enormous problem with enforcement and regulations; the law is inadequate, enforcement is adequate and in a lot of places is completely non-existent.”

She suggested taking the situation to central government, to protect workers and public health, adding: “We are not in a position to protect the health of the local community. It needs to be reported to the highest levels. It is time to really speak out about this.”

Ms Rogers continued: “The site owners commissioned RSK to conduct their intrusive site survey. We have still not received this report.

"I have shared the council’s report with the landowner’s representatives and asked them again when they will be able to tell us when theirs will be available. I have not had any indication of a timeframe as to when that will be. I am confident that will be shared, but not as to when.

“When that survey is known, the results will be shared with Bureau Veritas, who will compare the RSK report with what we have found and provide us with that information.”

Ms Rogers confirmed the suggestions raised by Hilda Palmer will be passed on and asked to be raised with senior councillors.

Additionally, the Council’s position on enforcement will be looked into, so options can be documented in a particular scenario and distributed.

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