Monday, October 15, 2007

Asbestos scare at sheltered home

An asbestos alert at sheltered homes in Lowestoft has left elderly and disabled tenants without toilet facilities in their flats for two days.

Environmental health officers halted refurbishment work on the toilets at Hildesley Court on Stradbroke Road when an anonymous tip-off alerted them to the presence of asbestos insulating boards in pipe ducting.

They said contractors working on behalf of building managers Housing 21 had disturbed the dangerous substance, creating airborne fibres which can cause cancer and lung diseases if inhaled.

The bathrooms of 18 flats were immediately sealed, leaving pensioners to face a difficult journey to the toilets at the far end of the ground floor - some even resorting to using buckets in their rooms.

Last night, Housing 21 bosses apologised to tenants and said a specialist asbestos cleaning firm was working to contain the problem and they expected the toilets to reopen today.

Hildesley Court resident Alec Cooper, 92, said he was concerned about the hazardous dust, but more affected by the difficulty of not having a toilet in his first-floor flat.

“I am crippled and I have to go four or five times a night. There are toilets downstairs but I use a bucket during the night.

“It doesn't upset me - I have been in the army so I've roughed it before, but it is the women I worry about.

“The manager and his wife offered to help empty it but I have a walker and if you can't do that for yourself then you might as well stay in bed, and I'm not going to do that.”

An 80-year-old woman, who did not wish to be named, said: “I am very annoyed we have to go all the way to the end of the building. It is very inconvenient.”

A Housing 21 spokesman said a short-term solution to seal any exposed asbestos would be completed today and longer-term work to remove the material would begin “in the next few days”.

“No residents are at risk, but have been offered alternative accommodation either with relatives or in local hotels,” he said.

“Most residents have chosen to stay on the court, but our apologies go to all of them for the disruption and inconvenience caused. We will obviously resolve this problem just as soon as we can, and hope that everybody will be back in their homes by Thursday afternoon.”

Britain banned the import and use of most asbestos products in 1999 because airborne fibres, released if the material is disturbed, can cause mesothelioma - a type of cancer - and other lung diseases.

A Waveney District Council spokesman said: “A prohibition notice was issued because, in the opinion of the environ-mental health officer, the refurbishment work was disturbing asbestos and would present an imminent risk to health.”


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