Fire at Asbestos Factory: Public Concerns
At 3 a.m. on Friday February 15, a fire broke out in a three-storey industrial building in Spodden Valley, Rochdale. Fifty fire-fighters tackled the blaze which took some hours to bring under control. Streets were closed and local people were warned to keep windows and doors closed to avoid smoke inhalation. A spokesman for the Manchester Fire and Rescue Service said: We have identified some asbestos within the structure [of the factory] - but that has been contained into the area as it was covered by metal sheeting. Having assessed the immediate area downwind from the fire, I've deemed that it is safe.1 A further statement by the authorities was also reassuring: the smoke contained no asbestos fibres .2
As far as can be ascertained, there was no asbestos monitoring being done as the fire blazed; given that without these measurements it is not possible to know whether or not asbestos contamination had taken place, there are grounds to question the reassurances given to the public. Added to this was the fact that this was not just any redundant mill. For decades, the building which was at the heart of the fire had been at the center of the manufacturing operations of Turner Brothers Asbestos (TBA), a subsidiary of the UK asbestos giant: Turner & Newall. It has been estimated that over a million tonnes of raw asbestos fiber were processed by the time the factory closed down in the mid-1990s. Former employees, many of whom live in the Rochdale area, had first-hand experience of the hazardous clouds of dust which permeated the factory.
No comprehensive remediation of the TBA buildings or grounds has been undertaken since manufacturing ceased. Indeed redevelopment plans which had been considered by Rochdale Council were finally turned down in 2011 after a seven year-campaign by local people who were convinced about the imminent hazard posed by asbestos on the old TBA site. In a press release issued today (February 19), Save Spodden Valley (SSV) campaigner Jason Addy calls for transparency and full disclosure regarding the actions which were taken on February 15th. The people of Rochdale deserve to know the facts. Concerns are being raised of a 'Public Relations smokescreen' he said.
Another Rochdale campaigner William Hobhouse, Chairman of the TBA Working Party, echoed Addy's concerns:
Friday's fire created clouds of smoke. Many residents at considerable distance from the site could smell and see the smoke coming from this large fire. The potential for the release of asbestos fibre is a significant worry. The people of Rochdale will need to know the facts about this site and this fire, so that those responsible for the site are held fully accountable.3
An emergency meeting is being held tonight by the TBA Working Party to consider a range of issues related to the fire.
February 19, 2013
1 Fire at Turner & Newall asbestos factory in Rochdale. February 15, 2013.
2 Press Release: Save Spodden Valley. February 19, 2013.
3 Press Release. TBA Working Party. February 19, 2013.