Asbestos risk in knocking flats

THE removal of 120 tonnes of asbestos from the Ballymun flats by way of demolishing the tower blocks is unsafe and unacceptable, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) said yesterday.

It said the method proposed by the State company Ballymun Regeneration Ltd (BRL) was “legally unacceptable” and offered less protection than international standards.

BRL is proposing to carry out a pilot demolition project on an enclosed tower without removing the asbestos. “Our judgment is that what it is proposing is not safe,” said a HSA spokesman.

The HSA and BRL’s disagreement over how to proceed with the demolition is delaying the €2.5 billion regeneration of the deprived area. New houses and facilities cannot be built if the 2,800 Ballymun flats are not demolished.

BRL is claiming that removing all the asbestos from the walls, ceilings and floor tiles, prior to demolition, could cost €120 million and delay the project for up to two years.

The HSA held a news conference in Dublin yesterday to reject newspaper reports it was holding up the regeneration. It said its judgment had been supported by health and safety authorities in six European countries and that BRL had originally proposed to remove the asbestos last April, before changing its mind eight months later.

The HSA said the asbestos, a human carcinogen, posed no threat to the 20,000 inhabitants of Ballymun. But there would be a significant health risk if asbestos fibres became airborne during demolition.

“In Britain, big flat complexes in Hull, Hackney and Leeds have been recently demolished after removing the asbestos. We would be deferring from the norm if demolition was to go ahead without the safe removal of the asbestos,” said the spokeswoman.

The editor of the local Ballymun Concrete News, Séamus Kelly, said there was a certain amount of disquiet among residents.

“We are concerned that the demolition is done properly. The last thing we need are delays, but the safety of the residents must come first.”

In a statement, BRL said there was a difference of opinion between itself and the HSA.

“This centres on whether it is safer for workers and the local community for these coatings to be scraped off prior to demolition or whether the flats should be demolished with the coating left in situ,” said managing director Ciarán Murray. “We will conduct a comprehensive risk assessment on the pilot project and on alternative demolition methodologies.”

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