16 February 2006

People reject asbestos dump


by Francesca Ryan

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usHundreds of people turned out yesterday for the protest against a proposed asbestos dump in the heart of West Belfast. (Photo: Mark Jones - Daily Ireland)

Politicians, community representatives and families who have lost relatives to asbestos-related diseases stood shoulder to shoulder at the rally outside the offices of Grove Services Group. They heard Sinn Féin councillor Paul Maskey promise that West Belfast would not stand by and let the dangerous substance be stored in this community.

Anxious parents, concerned pensioners and children listened intently as Councillor Maskey reaffirmed his commitment to getting the plans shelved.
“We will not allow this to happen in Andersonstown. If this application is given the go-ahead, it will act as a green light for other companies to do the same across Belfast."

Local environmentalist Terry Enright and Sheila Smith, who poured out her heart to the Andersonstown News a few weeks back about the experience of losing her father to mesothelioma, also spoke at the protest in the Kennedy Way Industrial Estate.

“The large turnout today shows the deep concern the people of West Belfast have about these plans," said SDLP councillor for the area, Tim Attwood.

“It is just incredible to think that the planners have agreed to an asbestos dump so close to a large housing estate, a nursery school and business park.

“It is probable that asbestos will be transferred from across the North to here.

“Reports have shown that there is a high risk of asbestos escaping from bags being transported to the dump, and a medium risk of the deadly dust escaping during manual handling by plant workers. This is totally unacceptable.

“There are serious problems with planning decisions being taken here, there are obvious health concerns involved and public protest appears to be the only way to oppose this application.

“I would encourage people to continue to get involved to see these plans killed off."

Sean Paul O'Hare, Director of Féile an Phobail, added his support to the campaign.

“I am here to show my opposition to plans for an asbestos storage facility here in West Belfast," he said.

“We have long been trying to make positive contributions towards making the area a better place – a facility like this contributes nothing and is a negative factor.

“The people here today are sending a clear message that this asbestos facility isn't welcome in West Belfast."

Terry Enright of the Black Mountain Environmental Group said the plans were the latest “in a litany of abuses".

“The turnout here is great and people need to keep up the momentum, they need to be writing away and telephoning those who are making these irresponsible decisions.

“People are voicing their concerns about the impact on health and on the environment but they are basically being ignored. In my eyes, this is just the latest in a litany of abuses against the people of West Belfast.

“The planners need to be held accountable for their decisions."

Councillor Maskey told the Andersonstown News last night that he was very pleased with the turnout.

“This is only the first protest of many, we plan to keep this up for as long as is necessary, we cannot stand by and let this happen.

“People have shown enough concern to come out here today, for many it is their lunch hour but they wanted their voices to be heard and hopefully now Grove Services will listen."

Councillor Maskey, along with representatives from Andersonstown's Link and Tullymore community centres, will be meeting with Grove Services’ Managing Director, Dougie Sloan, today.

“Mr Sloan asked to meet with us on Thursday, to me this is an exercise in PR because the media spotlight is on him. Today's rally was a success in that it brought us to the meeting table. Grove had stonewalled everyone until the last minute, they thought we wouldn't pull the rally off but we did and this is a good result."

Responding to Mr Sloan's claim that Grove will only be handling “low-grade" asbestos, Councillor Maskey said: “At the end of the day, asbestos is asbestos and it only takes one speck to be inhaled to lead to a potential fatality. If this application is given the go-ahead, Grove can bring in the high-grade stuff in the following week and there is nothing that anyone will be able to do.

“This is just one of the points we will be discussing with Mr Sloan on Thursday."


Last-ditch response from GSG

“Our premises are not in a densely populated area. We are situated in the middle of an isolated, off-road industrial estate”.
Dougie Sloan, Managing Director,
Grove Services Group

by Francesca Ryan

Yesterday morning, just hours before the planned protest rally at the offices of Grove Services Group, the company's Managing Director, Dougie Sloan, finally contacted the Andersonstown News.

Mr Sloan said he was moving “to allay public concern" about the proposals for an asbestos storage facility at his Andersonstown premises. In fact, he issued a general statement to the media and has still failed to answer all the questions we put to him 38 days ago.

Grove Services had remained silent despite being pressed by the Andersonstown News, amongst others, to answer a number of questions relating to the security precautions to be taken to contain the potentially deadly asbestos fibres that will be stored at Blackstaff Way if the application is given the green light.

Mr Sloan said in his statement that he had been unable to comment until now as the application is still with the Planning Department but said he wanted “to put the record straight” on what he admits is “a highly emotive subject".

“The company would not contemplate or do anything that would endanger the health of our employees, or the health of the public,” said Mr Sloan.
“We will only be dealing with the very lowest grade asbestos: asbestos sheeting from roofs, the lining of chimneys, even old PVC tiles from kitchen floors.

“It's called bonded asbestos: it's already sealed in. This is not limpet or friable asbestos, which is classified as the highest risk."

Mr Sloan refuted allegations that his company were putting financial profit before the health of those living and working in West Belfast.

“We plan to undertake this work because the government has failed to provide adequate facilities elsewhere," he said before countering claims that his company, and the proposed asbestos site, are situated in a densely populated area. “Our premises are not in a densely populated area. We are situated in the middle of an isolated, off-road industrial estate.

“Any storage at our premises off the Kennedy Way will be temporary, not permanent. And how fast or frequently it will be transferred to Scotland for disposal will depend on the volume collected. We don't know that yet."

The Andersonstown News has reported that a security assessment carried out by Grove Services themselves in the summer of 2004 revealed that there was a “high risk" of the escape and ingestion of asbestos fibres due to either the rupture of asbestos bags during carriage to or from a vehicle, a vehicle accident or a fire in the vehicle.

“The application has to factor in all worst case scenarios. That is required by legislation,” reads the statement

“It has to cover all asbestos types, even though we will be dealing solely with the bonded, sealed variety: the lowest risk category.

“In the planning application, we have committed ourselves to taking all steps humanly and technically possible to guarantee the safe and secure collection, storage and transportation of asbestos.

“The material will be transported and stored in enclosed steel containers which exceed all the requirements of industrial, Health, Environmental and Transport laws.

“This covers air-proofing, weatherproofing, fireproofing and vandal-proofing." Mr Sloan was eager to stress that he understood why the community was concerned and emphasised that, as far as he was concerned, locals would not be put at risk.

“We understand and respect the concern being expressed in the community. That is why we have taken all the steps outlined in this statement.

“Our health and safety record is exemplary. If we had any major concerns about this latest development we would not progress with what we see as providing a service to the community.

“I stress again: we would not contemplate or do anything that would endanger the health of our employees, or the health of the public."

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