Church Fire Highlights Danger Of Dormant Asbestos

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The Law Of... dealing with dormant asbestos

A fire at a disused Bristol church caused an asbestos warning for local residents, highlighting the continued danger of the dormant toxin.

The Law Of... dealing with dormant asbestos

Responding to the asbestos fear prompted by the fire, Helen Grady – Partner in Simpson Millar's Industrial Disease team – explains how stories such as these highlight the continued risk of asbestos exposure.

Fire In Abandoned Church

The St. Michael on the Mount Church on St. Michael's Hill in Bristol caught fire around midday on Sunday (16 October), resulting in an estimated 35 firefighters and 15 fire engines converging on the scene to tackle the blaze.

An investigation was launched following the fire, which caused the street to be closed and residents in adjacent buildings to be evacuated, as fears grew over the fire spreading; the investigation found that the cause was deliberate.

Parts of the church date back to the 15th century, however it has since been rebuilt and refurbished.

The building has been left empty for more than 17 years and is on the Buildings at Risk register, however campaigners have recently fought for the Grade II* listed building to be put back into use – with scaffolding recently erected to complete repairs on the church's tower.

Busy Thoroughfare At Risk Of Asbestos Exposure

Located on a busy thoroughfare in Bristol city centre, the blaze at St Michael on the Mount Church prompted warnings to local residents to keep doors and windows shut, as the smoke and dust billowed across local buildings.

Due to the age of the building, and the years that refurbishment took place, it is assumed that the building held dormant asbestos, which could have been released into the air following the blaze.

Police officers dealing with the road cordon and directing traffic were seen with face masks, assumedly to reduce the risk of inhaling the toxic material, however it is unlikely that such equipment would have offered adequate protection. Those who went into the building should have been supplied with an air fed respirator for proper protection.

Explaining the dangerous nature of asbestos exposure, Helen says:

"This is yet another case of dormant asbestos being disturbed and released into the air, putting local residents and onlookers at risk of exposure."

"Asbestos exposure can result in mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other lung-related cancers and complications."

"The asbestos risk associated with this blaze highlights the danger of not having a coherent policy in place to remove asbestos from our schools and old buildings."

"We need to be proactive in our tackling of dormant asbestos, as the material was used on such a large scale for such a long time, mainly due to the UK's slow response in banning the use of the deadly material."

"It is because of this left over asbestos that exposure is happening right now and the UK is in danger of continuing to have the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world."

"The long latency period of asbestos-related illnesses, namely mesothelioma, means that those exposed to the toxin may not present symptoms for 10 to 60 years."


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