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Asbestos found at Highland Council HQ in Inverness

By Louise Glen

Block B has been closed due to asbestos.
Block B has been closed due to asbestos.

MORE than 50 members of Highland Council staff were sent home from work after asbestos was found at the local authority’s headquarters.

The council is working with trade unions to deal with situation and has reported itself to the Health and Safety Executive.

It is understood staff who work in part of the Glenurquhart Road building – known as Block B and built in 1976 – are all affected.

Staff, including those in the chief executive’s office and those working in members’ services, were transferred to other buildings around the region following the discovery on Tuesday.

One council worker, who did not want to be named, told the Courier: “It was like a bomb had been dropped. Not only are we dealing with the worst pandemic [coronavirus] that anyone will ever know in their lifetime, but we have been given a second blow by finding out that we may have all been living with a ticking time bomb next to our desks the whole time.

“The council should be exemplary when it comes to the way it deals with its staff, so if there is any hint that anyone within the executive knew that this was a problem before we were moved out of the offices, then there will be merry hell to pay.

“We cannot believe that this has happened, people are seriously worried that they might have been subjected to asbestos, and will now have asbestosis.”

Asbestos is a term for a group of minerals made of microscopic fibres. Exposure to asbestos can cause cancer and other diseases.

Before its dangers were known, asbestos was often used in buildings for insulation, flooring and roofing and sprayed on ceilings and walls.

It is now banned in the UK.

A spokesman for the British Lung Foundation said: “Buildings constructed before the year 2000 may still have asbestos in them. If the asbestos-containing materials inside these buildings remain intact, they pose very little risk.

“It’s only when these materials are damaged or disturbed that tiny asbestos fibres can be released into the air and breathed into your lungs.

“The symptoms of asbestos-related disease take many years – even decades – to appear after the original exposure to asbestos, so exposure a long time ago might only be showing up as a disease today.”

A council spokesman said: “Highland Council has taken precautionary measures in closing the Block B offices at the HQ site due to a small part of an asbestos rope gasket becoming loose within the plant room ductwork.

“The ductwork will be fully checked, repaired and recommissioned prior to the offices being reopened to staff.

“Both staff and trade unions have been fully briefed on the situation and the council has also kept the Health and Safety Executive informed.”

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