There are plans afoot by government to increase the number of trained professionals who can remove asbestos sheets from various sites across the island.

That is the word from Director of the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), Jeffrey Headley, who said: “Only trained persons should engage in the removal of asbestos and since there is a shortage of such personnel, the Environmental Protection Department is embarking on an initiative to train and certify persons in this area.”

He disclosed that the programme would begin next week in earnest with half-day training sessions for environmental health officers. They will be conducted at the Randal Phillips, Six Roads, Winston Scott, Warrens, Black Rock and Maurice Byer Polyclinics.

The following week, on Tuesday, April 15, a half-day meeting will be held at the Sanitation Service Authority (SSA) for some staffers of the Barbados Port Authority, the National Housing Corporation, the SSA, and the Ministries of Transport, Housing and Lands and Education and Human Resources Development.

Training for private sector personnel, namely contractors and supervisors in the building industry, will be held on two consecutive days, starting Monday, April 21, in the conference room of Manor Lodge, Green Hill, St. Michael. 

There are some public and private sector buildings across the island that still have asbestos roofing materials, but Mr. Headley explained that Government’s policy was to remove them over a period of time and that the process had already started.

According to him, information was now being collected to determine how many properties still had asbestos material, but he pointed out that it was extremely unlikely that buildings constructed after 1990 contained such materials.

He however stressed that people living or working in such buildings should not be afraid. “Asbestos only becomes a hazard when it is disturbed or damaged. If the roof housing these people is not damaged, then there is no need to panic as they will not be exposed to any danger since the material is bonded and no fibres will be released,” he explained.

The EPD has developed a pre-removal process and guidelines for contractors, workers and other persons for the safe removal of asbestos, and these, Mr. Headley said, must be strictly observed.

“Failing to adhere to the rules could expose a number of people to the hazards of the fibres. Those persons who can be exposed are the workers handling the asbestos or those in close proximity to the area where it is being removed. Additionally, if it is not transported properly, then the area that the vehicle passed could become contaminated,” he noted.  

When asbestos materials age and become damaged or disturbed in any form, he said, fibres could be released into the air. Constant exposure might result in certain forms of lung diseases, including cancer, the Director stated, adding that the time between asbestos exposure and the development of these diseases might vary between 15 and 40 years.

There are three types of asbestos: chrysolite (white), amosite (brown) and crocidolite (blue). It used to be a desirable material because of its durability and resistance to wear, heat, chemicals, flames and corrosion.  It is used as roofing material, vehicle brake pads and clutch linings, in ceiling and ceramic tiles, domestic equipment and heat insulation material, including certain gloves, ironing boards and fire proofing substances.

There is one asbestos disposal site in the island and this is located at Rock Hall, St. Philip. It can be accessed from Monday to Friday, between 7:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

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