14 September 2016
Political Nightmare: Asbestos in Houses of Parliament
A new report has revealed dangerous levels of asbestos in the Houses of Parliament.
The toxic material, linked to many types of industrial disease and cancer, is believed to be in “almost every vertical riser (service shaft), as well as in many plant rooms, corridors and underfloor voids.”
The report, revealed by MPs on the restoration committee, highlights concerns that date back to 2015 with fears that asbestos fibres might also have been in the air provided to the House of Commons chamber.
The 2015 investigation into the 170-year-old neo-Gothic building revealed “significant dangers to all persons,” according to the study produced by London-based safety experts, Goddard Consulting. It found asbestos contamination in the service shafts and piping ducts behind the committee rooms and chambers, which could put MPs, staff and visitors at risk of exposure to asbestos.
A considerable hazard, noted in the findings, was an asbestos-contaminated shaft apparently wedged shut with a spoon as a safety measure. The survey, which was carried out by a team of specialists wearing protective clothing, noted: "Asbestos fibres would be readily dispersed in the kitchen areas if the dust and debris was disturbed in the riser in any way."
Asbestos Removal: A Matter of Funding
The restoration committee has been working out how best to remove it in the most cost-efficient and safe way, but the presence of asbestos has added “greatly to the complexity, cost and timetable” of the work involved.
The report proposes MPs are moved to Richmond House next to the parliamentary estate in 2022.
The costs of refurbishments are considerably heightened when asbestos removal is required, and a Parliament spokesperson stated in 2015 there has been a “significant under-investment” in the building since the Second World War following renovations due to bomb damage. The committee has yet to issue an updated figure for the cost of renovations and asbestos removal, but estimates fall between £3.5 billion and £4 billion.
According to The Times, Prime Minister, Theresa May, is set to back the call, which will be subject to a parliamentary vote.
Why is Asbestos in Parliament Buildings?
Asbestos was used for insulation in the UK, and is prevalent in many buildings constructed before 1999. The surveying, removal and disposal of asbestos must be carried out by specialists. This is not a matter of labour, but the minimising of the risk of exposure, which can result in asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma.
The aforementioned Goddard Consulting report, which was delivered in early 2015, revealed that 11 of 20 samples taken from four of the service shafts, contained amosite, also known as brown asbestos – a cancer-causing substance. But according to one of the consultants, this is something the House of Commons has known about for some time:
"In view of the fact that in December 2006 I issued a report on the risers [service shafts] warning of the consequences of riser access doors being unlocked and unsealed, the Palace of Westminster authorities may wish to consider whether or not they have taken adequate steps to protect employees and visitors from exposure to asbestos fibres in accordance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006."
However, aoHHG House of Commons spokesperson stated, "The letter from Goddard Consulting quite understandably drew our attention to the fact that we had not implemented all the recommendations within their 2005 report. That is correct. However, this is a complex area where professional opinions may differ. There are a number of recommendations where we felt that alternative ways of managing the hazard would be equally effective and the problems were addressed accordingly."
Asbestos in UK Schools
The potential risks of exposure to asbestos should never be ignored and, with the spotlight now on the Government’s very dwellings, perhaps an increase in the awareness of the dangers of asbestos will now be addressed on a wider scale.
Funding is at the root of the asbestos that lingers as a silent killer in approximately 86% of UK schools. A report on Asbestos in UK schools published in 2014 revealed asbestos hazards in 20 UK schools.
For more information on asbestos in UK schools, see: UK Schools are Facing an Asbestos Timebomb
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