Asbestos factory health concerns: ten years on and the patience of Job

Date published: 01 February 2014

The fire at the former Turner Brothers Asbestos site has brought concerns regarding site security, and the potential for serious risk to health, to the fore once more.

Jason Addy of the Save Spodden Valley (SSV) campaign says the TBA Working Party has been repeatedly raising these issues, together with local people and the SSV campaign.

Ten years on, he says "local people have had the patience of Job".

The site was once the largest asbestos factory in the world and is acknowledged to be contaminated with asbestos.

The risk to health from asbestos has been well documented for decades; inhaling airborne asbestos fibres can lead to mesothelioma, an asbestos related cancer with a gestation period of anything between 10 and 50 years.

SSV has fought relentlessly to stop development of the site without extensive remediation work first being carried out to make the site safe for future generations.

SSV spokesman Jason Addy has raised the issue of security many times, he says it has been suggested that “nothing can be done”.

In an email, prior to the fire, to the Community Safety Unit at Rochdale Council Mr Addy says he was told that officers have been advised not to enter premises due to contamination risks.

He goes on to say: “In addition to the foreseeable health risks trespassers face there is the additional risk to anyone that these people come into contact with - if contaminated with respirable asbestos fibre. For the avoidance of any doubt there needs not be visible accumulated dust in order for a causative event for asbestos cancer to occur. The sad truth is that if exposure occurs there is no test to confirm it. There is nothing more to do than wait. For mesothelioma the usual range for the disease presenting as cancer is between 10 and 50 years, so if these incidents are not recorded and health monitored then any such outcome may not be properly sourced.

“We are currently seeing an increase in mesothelioma attributed to historic non-occupational exposure. Recent events caused by trespassers on the site do create a foreseeable risk."

For its part, the council has said that as the security for the site is arranged through the owner the council will endeavour to contact the owner and put questions asked by the TBA Working Party and SSV to them and get the answers to the questioners "in due course".

It is understood there is a Incident Plan for the site and the expectation of the Working Party is that acts of trespass and vandalism should be dealt with under this procedure, however, the council has said that such acts "would not necessarily instigate the implementation of the Incident Response Plan, as the plan is designed to respond to a major emergency requiring multi agency intervention to prevent effects on the community".

Mr Addy says: “For the sake of the trespassers and anyone who may come into close contact with them, or any respirable asbestos fibre released on this site, it is vital that such activity is stopped and that past events are recorded properly.

“There comes a time when a series of smaller incidents accumulate into a larger, ongoing issue that must be addressed. In my opinion, the onus is on the owner of the site and best endeavours must be made by those with statutory duties for this site to ensure that all reasonable measures are taken by the owner to mitigate potential environmental and health risks.

“Local people have been incredibly patient. Surely the time has come to act.”

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