Hundreds of homes in Northern Ireland have areas effectively placed out of bounds due to asbestos contamination with almost 5,000 more under review, the NI Housing Executive has said.
In response to an Assembly question from Andy Allen MLA, the NIHE said it was “in the process of arranging for this asbestos to be removed”.
The Ulster Unionist representative said he was shocked to learn the scale of the problem.
“This means that effectively, tenants living in 326 properties are barred from going into parts of their homes, like their lofts, on health and safety grounds,” he said.
Asbestos was widely used in roofing, flooring and insulation before it was banned in the UK, with many buildings, constructed before 2000, potentially affected.
Many of those who have become ill with lung problems as a result of exposure to the microscopic fibres worked as joiners, pipe laggers, plumbers and electricians.
Mr Allen said: “The asbestos present in these properties not only causes the tenants ongoing disruption by having restrictions placed upon their household but, if disturbed, can cause severe health repercussions for people exposed to this hazardous material. In answer to my question, the minister for communities has told me that the Housing Executive is in the process of arranging for this asbestos to be removed.”
He added: “We need a lot more detail on what the plan is, what the timetable is, and what it will cost. What the department and the Housing Executive needs to show is that they have a policy of not only reviewing their housing stock, but safely removing asbestos where it is discovered.”
The four main diseases directly related to asbestos are mesothelioma (cancer mainly affecting the lining of the lungs), asbestos-related cancer, asbestosis (non-malignant scarring of lung tissue) and non-malignant pleural disease – with symptoms often not appearing for decades after exposure.
In response to the written Assembly question, the NIHE said it “continually reviews its stock in relation to asbestos where planned works are proposed,” and added: “There are 326 properties which currently have restrictions in place. With regards to these properties the Housing Executive is in the process of arranging for this asbestos to be removed.”