Lawyers Issue Warning As Latest Research Reveals Extent Of UK Public Buildings That Still Contain Asbestos
Lawyers have issued an asbestos warning following new research into asbestos in public buildings in the UK and in the wake of several cases involving the parliamentary estate.
Irwin Mitchell has supporting clients who believe that they were exposed to asbestos in the parliamentary estate and developed Mesothelioma as a consequence. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lung associated with exposure to asbestos. Often such exposure has occurred decades previously.
The cases follow a 2016 report that found parliament was ‘riddled with asbestos’ and renovation of the Palace of Westminster would be necessary to allow this asbestos to be removed safely.
In April 2022, MPs said a 40 year deadline should be set for the removal of asbestos from the estimated 300,000 public and commercial buildings that still contain the substance. The report, from the Work and Pensions Committee was ultimately rejected by the government.
In 2022, Irwin Mitchell contacted 20 local authorities in the UK as part of new research looking at the true picture in the UK with regard to asbestos in public buildings.
In response to Freedom of Information Requests (FOI) it was revealed that Westminster City Council alone has over 90 buildings within their operational portfolio that contain asbestos, including 22 leisure centres, 10 libraries and 7 community centres. (The Palace of Westminster is not owned or managed by the council).
Expert Opinion“It is an open secret that the Palace of Westminster is no different to thousands of other public buildings in the UK that contain asbestos”.
“It was inevitable we would see people coming forward who encountered asbestos in the parliament buildings. While the Committee’s call for asbestos to be removed from public buildings was rejected, this news, so close to home could well sharpen minds and prompt a rethink in the new government”.
“MPs are probably at just as much risk as anyone else working in a public building containing asbestos and will ignite debate over how essential renovations are conducted in the parliamentary estate, the safety of all employed in parliament and those workers charged with removal and repair.” Satpal Singh, Senior Associate
Former security guard Mr Smith, from Essex, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in September 2015. Based opposite Downing Street, Mr Smith worked in Whitehall from 1989 to 1997 for the Ministry of Defence. His role took him through many areas of the parliamentary estate, checking for criminal activity and escorting and monitoring authorised contractors.
Mr Smith would walk through the tunnels under Whitehall and Parliament buildings, escorting contractors working on the heating and hot water systems, which he remembers were lagged with asbestos.
Mr Smith died in 2021 and his wife explained that his diagnosis had come as a huge shock to them both. He had regular check-ups at hospital, so his condition was spotted early. The doctor kept asking if he had ever been exposed to asbestos and the only time he knew this was the case was during his time at the MoD whilst asbestos works were taking place.
Prior to his death, Mr Smith recalled how the dust that would fall from the asbestos lagged pipes was always hanging in the air. The lagging was in a poor state of repair. He was determined to get at the truth of how he came to be exposed to asbestos and felt sure sure he was not the only one to have worked in areas of the estate where asbestos may have been present. His case was settled shortly before trial.
Building contractor Mr P, aged 65, from Greater London was employed at both Houses of Parliament for several months in the early 1990’s. Working for the main contractor on site, Mr P’s role was removing wall panels and floorboards, prior to installation of new wiring.
Mr P recalled finding asbestolux sheets below panels which would break when removed, spreading asbestos dust in the process. He did not know that asbestolux was dangerous at the time but he did recall that given the importance of the work, government observers were present during it.
Mr P was diagnosed with mesothelioma in March 2021 and died later the same year.
A third client, who did not wish to be named, was employed from 1996 to 2006 and based in the old war office building. He visited various sub-ground floor levels in Westminster, which he recalled being very dilapidated.
A labyrinth of corridors with pipes and wires running through them, he believed that the lagging on the pipes was asbestos. His work took him into many of the same parts of the estate as Mr Smith. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2017 and died a few years later.
Satpal added: “Our own FOI requests demonstrate that public buildings across the UK face this asbestos problem and the scale of the challenge of removing all this asbestos safely, weighed against the risk of leaving it in place. Asbestos in parliament buildings has been known of for some time and this may be the point we all decide doing nothing in the face of these cases is simply not an option.”