By Betsy Everett
The first small step in a housing conversion project in the centre of a Dales village has been completed, with the stripping out of potentially deadly asbestos from the three-storey building.
The team from the Richmond-based Guardian Environmental Solutions carried out the work which is now largely routine for premises built prior to 1999, when the substance was banned in the UK.
The building work to convert the Askrigg Foundation property in Main Street into three affordable homes is expected to start in April, although no definite date has been fixed as the charity strives to get planning approval for properly insulated windows.
The asbestos removal followed a full survey by GES, who operate throughout the country and who provide asbestos awareness training as well as a cleaning service.
Undisturbed, asbestos is relatively safe, but once rebuilding, refurbishment or demolition work starts, there is a danger of inhaling the deadly fibres.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), asbestos-related diseases, including cancers, account for around 5,000 deaths a year in the UK, nearly three times the number of people killed on the roads.
“In this day and age that’s a totally unacceptable figure,” says GES managing director Guy Sotheran.
“People just don’t realise this product is still about and the government do not do a lot to educate people about it.”
In 2002 the HSE launched the Duty to Manage regulations, directed at anyone who manages non-domestic premises.
“Again, a lot of people are just not aware that they have legal responsibilities to ensure their premises are safe,” says Guy.
Seemingly innocuous items such as floor and ceiling tiles, decorative wall coatings, vinyl floor covering and even sash cords to windows, can all contain the material once regarded as the answer to virtually every insulation project.
The root of the problem lies in the past, with widespread industrial use from 1950-1980.
Asbestos-related cancers such as lung cancer and mesothelioma, and asbestosis, can occur 50 years after exposure.
The HSE says cases are often rapidly fatal following the onset of cancer, while conditions such as asbestosis may progress over time to seriously affect normal daily activity and lead to complications which can be fatal.
The Askrigg Foundation project has been awarded a grant of £150,000 by Richmondshire District Council, through the government’s community-led housing scheme, and £9,000 for refurbishment of the ground-floor shop from the National Lottery’s community fund.