Romanticism v’s Asbestos reality

One of the problematic issues concerning the historic use of asbestos in the UK is the fact that vast quantities of asbestos remains present in tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of buildings in this country. The vast majority of people will have no clue as to the dangers asbestos poses, and indeed are unlikely to even know what looks like, or the products it was incorporated into. Another problem is that with the related diseases caused by asbestos being long tailed – you won’t die today, tomorrow or next year from exposure, there is the risk of complacency, especially amongst some tradespeople such as builders, who may come across it during the course of their work.

Trying to highlight the continuing dangers of asbestos exposure was certainly not helped by the BBC programme Restoration Home shown last week and available on the BBC IPlayer for a short while. The programme, hosted by popular actress, Caroline Quentin, follows a standard format of a building being substantially renovated and turned into a liveable home. The episode entitled, St Peter’s Barn, showed a couple renovate a massive 17th century farm barn over the course of more than a year.

The barn had asbestos roofing said to be from the 1950s. In order to ensure a water tight building the removal of the old asbestos roofing was the first job that needed to be carried out. The programme showed the husband, a builder by trade, working on the roof. It did not actually show him removing the asbestos panels, but it did show a large pile of the panels stacked up on the ground. At no time in the commentary to the programme was the danger of asbestos mentioned. The impression given by the programme was that the roof was like any other aging roof that needed replacing.

In one scene, we were shown the programme’s historic architectural expert, in his everyday clothes without even a hard hat on, walking across the dusty floor of the barn, espousing to the camera the barn’s wonderful architectual features. This scene epitosmised the appalling failings of the programme’s producers. They clearly wanted a romantic programme showing how an architectual gem had been brough back to life by the sheer hard work of the couple.

Allowing a television crew into a building where there would be asbestos dust lying about was an act of pure negligence. Equally, the image it portrayed gave the impression to the viewing public that there was no danger, and that they too could undertake asbestos removal without needing to take any precautions.

The programme should have given a strong warning about asbestos removal. Furthermore, in doing so it should have highlighted the need for asbestos to be professionally removed, and the site being decotaminated of asbestos dust. Finally, it should have clearly stated that the waste asbestos was disposed of in accordance with the appropriate regulatory provisions.

To make up for the damage such a programme as this does, perhaps the BBC would like to make a programme on the domestic dangers of asbestos in homes. Of course there is no scope for romanticism in such a programme!

(Please see the update post on the 12th September)

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