Glasgow tenants claim they risk exposure to asbestos

TENS of thousands of Scottish tenants living in homes owned by one of Europe’s largest social housing landlords are at risk of being exposed to asbestos, it is claimed.

Tenants, politicians and workers have come forward to say poor workmanship could release asbestos into some of the 60,000 homes owned by the Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) intended for refurbishment by a number of private contractors.

Some of these homes, particularly those built in the 1960s, contain asbestos in the ceilings or walls. If left undisturbed, the asbestos is not dangerous, but if disturbed during building work it becomes airborne and can pose a threat to health.

Some contractors employed by GHA to carry out a massive renovations programme stand accused of “cutting corners” and failing to follow safety procedures. Work has been ongoing for a number of years and is expected to be finished by 2013.

At least two legal actions are being prepared against the GHA over the asbestos claims, it is understood.

The Sunday Herald has identified one block of flats where residents and workers were allegedly exposed during renovations, prompting a former GHA board member to warn half of GHA’s homes could also be exposed if the same alleged mistakes are repeated elsewhere.

All kitchens and bathrooms in GHA properties are to be refitted within two years, with much of the work already done.

GHA insists it applies stringent measures to make sure asbestos is not disturbed, but one tenant who lived in a flat in north Glasgow, and also a worker in the building, claim they were exposed during refurbishment works. Deborah McKenna, 51, said “plumes” of what she believes was asbestos dust were released during work and also during a subsequent water leak. She is now consulting lawyers.

Since then, she has been left terrified she could develop lethal asbestosis, which can kill people 20 years after they were exposed.

She said: “I have been in fear of my life. When work was carried out in the house, I saw dust I knew was asbestos. I’ve had to live with the fear of not knowing what was going to happen to me in the future.”

In a letter to local MSP Bob Doris, who took up McKenna’s case, GHA admitted “traces of asbestos” were found in the artex coating of McKenna’s ceiling, but there was only a “minimal health risk” and workers sealed the asbestos.

Doris said: “My constituents have not been satisfied by the responses from GHA. As a result, I intend making the new Scottish Housing Minister, Keith Brown, aware of these concerns with a view to the possibility of an external review of GHA’s procedures for asbestos management.”

A worker from the same building also approached the Sunday Herald with a similar story. We cannot give further details for legal reasons, as a court case is being launched.

Councillor Billy McAllister, a former GHA board member and deputy leader of the SNP group in Glasgow City Council, also claimed asbestos was released in his house when work was carried out. As a former shipyard worker, he has seen first hand the effects of asbestos.

He said: “It’s scary. The GHA took over houses from Glasgow City Council, many of which carry some, or even a lot, of asbestos. I would say half of GHA stock could be affected . . . I think GHA should be more vigilant.”

Sean Clerkin of the Glasgow Homeowners’ Campaign, which represents GHA tenants, said: “I call upon the Housing Minister Keith Brown to instigate an investigation immediately.”

The Glasgow Housing Association Inspection Report carried out in 2007 by the Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) said GHA “had not fully assessed asbestos risk as it has not identified the condition or types of asbestos present in all of its common areas … In summary, GHA does not meet its statutory and regulatory requirements on gas safety and managing asbestos, and this is a major weakness”.

The SHR said GHA had since made progress, but has now demanded GHA explain why its residents are still concerned about asbestos.

GHA said there was “no risk” of asbestos poisoning at the flats in north Glasgow or during any other renovation work.

A spokesman said: “All appropriate measures are taken to remove any risk of customers and staff being exposed to asbestos where it is present and likely to be disturbed by improvement works.”

Source Herald Scotland