Neighbours’ concerns over asbestos found at Odyssey cinema in St Albans

DANGEROUS asbestos is being stripped out of the Odyssey Cinema in St Albans city centre after the fibre was discovered throughout the old building.

But neighbours of the former Odeon cinema in London Road are still concerned about whether they have already been exposed to harmful dust after volunteers cleared rubble from the art deco building earlier this year.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which served a notice on the cinema to stop work immediately, asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK.

St Albans based Borras Construction, the Odyssey’s main contractor during its rebuild, has confirmed that asbestos was discovered in a recent survey of the derelict building. It has to be removed before the �1.6 million restoration project can resume.

Working on or near damaged asbestos-containing materials or breathing in high levels of the product’s fibres can increase a person’s chances of getting an asbestos-related disease, including mesothelioma.

Adam Bowden, managing director of Borras, said that asbestos removal began on Monday.

The clearance is likely to take up to nine weeks and will be carried out by specialists under controlled conditions, in accordance with HSE guidelines.

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Adam explained that the more dangerous brown asbestos, along with white asbestos, had been found during the survey - but none was found on the cinema’s exterior.

The survey showed the fibre was present in insulation and noise reduction panels, floor tiles, fire retardation material and in the boiler room.

Products containing the fibre will be double-wrapped inside the building, put in a sealed skip and then disposed of at a licensed landfill site that specialises in handling dangerous material.

Adam dismissed neighbours’ concerns about exposure to asbestos during decontamination work, saying, “this will not happen”.

However Annie Robb, who lives near the cinema, is still worried about whether she was exposed to dust when 30 volunteers helped clear the Odyssey’s interior in April following demolition work.

That work was carried out before the asbestos survey – which Annie received an anonymous tip about.

Annie said she was, “pretty angry that they’ve been clearing out and leaving debris all over our road from a contaminated site. Surely this should have been one of the first things to have checked, particularly as they have let the public in so many times.”

An HSE spokesman said the executive had identified the “presence of potentially hazardous asbestos containing material on November 20, 2012.

“A prohibition notice was immediately served to stop any further refurbishment activity until the material was safely removed.

“An HSE investigation is ongoing into the refurbishment work so it would be inappropriate to comment on whether any further enforcement action will be taken.”

A spokesman for the Odyssey maintained that asbestos was “never within reach of visitors, unless they dug out the walls and gave them a lick.”

He added that the restoration team had “strived” to ensure the safety of neighbours and on-site personnel. The cinema is still on schedule to open in early 2014.