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The construction industry has witnessed numerous innovations and materials over the years. Two such materials, Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) and asbestos, have been in recent headline news due to their implications on health and safety, especially in educational institutions.

The History & Legacy of Asbestos in Liverpool

The shipyards across Liverpool and Merseyside were among the largest users of asbestos. The city’s strategic location and extensive port facilities made it a central hub for shipbuilding and maritime trade.

As a result, a significant amount of the asbestos imported to the UK arrived via the docks in Liverpool. In fact, an article written by the British Asbestos Newsletter highlights that in 1997, over 55% of all asbestos imports to the UK entered the country through the Port of Liverpool.

Shipbuilders in Liverpool and the Wirral, including major firms like Cammell Laird, became synonymous with the construction of vessels that sailed all over the world. Due to its exceptional insulating and fire-retardant properties asbestos was seen as an ideal material for insulating boilers, steam pipes, and engines. The mineral became integral to these shipbuilding efforts, and was incorporated into nearly every vessel they constructed.

asbestos, first time buyer, asbestos survey, surveys

Asbestos in Liverpool’s Maritime Industry

The shipyards across Liverpool and Merseyside were among the largest users of asbestos. The city’s strategic location and extensive port facilities made it a central hub for shipbuilding and maritime trade.

As a result, a significant amount of the asbestos imported to the UK arrived via the docks in Liverpool. In fact, an article written by the British Asbestos Newsletter highlights that in 1997, over 55% of all asbestos imports to the UK entered the country through the Port of Liverpool.

Shipbuilders in Liverpool and the Wirral, including major firms like Cammell Laird, became synonymous with the construction of vessels that sailed all over the world. Due to its exceptional insulating and fire-retardant properties asbestos was seen as an ideal material for insulating boilers, steam pipes, and engines. The mineral became integral to these shipbuilding efforts, and was incorporated into nearly every vessel they constructed.

The Extensive Use of Asbestos In Shipbuilding

Asbestos was used in nearly every part of ship construction. The mineral was woven into the fabric of ships, literally and figuratively, being used for insulating boilers, steam pipes, and engines. These components reached extremely high temperatures and required materials that could withstand such heat without degrading. Asbestos was ideal for this purpose, ensuring that ships remained safe from fire hazards.

The mineral was not limited to the engine rooms; it found its way into ship cabins and bulkheads as well. Asbestos insulation was used in walls and ceilings to provide thermal insulation and soundproofing. This extensive use meant that anyone working on or around these ships, including dockworkers, shipbuilders, maintenance crews, and even sailors, were exposed to asbestos fibres regularly.

Asbestos in Liverpool’s Construction Industry

The construction boom in Liverpool during the early 20th century saw widespread use of asbestos in building materials. Asbestos cement products, roofing tiles, and insulation boards were commonly used in residential, commercial, and public buildings.

Notable structures, including schools, hospitals, and government offices, incorporated asbestos materials, unknowingly putting occupants at risk.

Asbestos was integrated into a wide range of construction materials due to its durability, fire resistance, and insulation properties. In Liverpool, many buildings constructed during the industrial boom and post-war reconstruction period contained asbestos. It was commonly used in roofing materials, ceiling tiles, wall panels, floor tiles, and insulation. As a result, we are now seeing today that asbestos is a hugely common discovery across the region, in both residential homes and commercial establishments.

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Health Risks & Long Term Consequences

The heavy use of asbestos in Liverpool’s shipyards and construction sites had dire health consequences for many workers in the area. The fibres from asbestos, once airborne, were easily inhaled, leading to severe long term respiratory issues. However, the health risks of asbestos are not immediately apparent.

It was only decades later that the full extent of the damage became known, as former shipyard workers began to suffer from asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Workers in Liverpool’s construction sites, as well as occupants of buildings containing asbestos, were also routinely exposed to asbestos dust, leading to severe respiratory conditions.

Liverpool’s shipbuilders and construction workers were among the hardest hit. The latency period of these diseases, often spanning 20 to 50 years, meant that workers exposed in the mid-20th century began to show symptoms only as they reached retirement age. By the 1960s and 1970s, medical research began to conclusively link asbestos exposure to these fatal illnesses.

This delayed onset of symptoms contributed to a public health crisis in Liverpool, as the city grappled with rising cases of asbestos-related illnesses.

Response, Remediation & Regulatory Changes

By the 1970s and 1980s, as medical research highlighted the severe health impacts of asbestos, there was a push to mitigate the risks. The UK government introduced stringent regulations to control the use of asbestos.

The Control of Asbestos Regulations were introduced to manage asbestos in buildings and protect workers from exposure. These regulations mandated the identification and removal of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in existing structures.

Shipyards were also required to identify and remove asbestos from vessels, a task that was both technically challenging and costly. Specialised teams were brought in to safely remove asbestos from ships. This process often involved stripping insulation from pipes, boilers, and other components, and replacing it with safer materials.

Liverpool, with its extensive history of asbestos use, faced a monumental task in identifying and safely removing ACMs from public and private buildings. The process was complicated and costly, but necessary to prevent further health risks. Specialised asbestos removal companies are still employed to handle the hazardous material, ensuring that it was safely disposed of in accordance with environmental regulations.

Legacy & Ongoing Challenges

Today, the legacy of asbestos in Liverpool is still evident. Many older buildings in the city, particularly those constructed before the 1980s, often still contain ACMs. Ongoing efforts to identify and remediate these materials continue to this day, with property owners and managers required to maintain asbestos management plans.

The impact of asbestos exposure in Liverpool has also left a lasting mark on the community. Organisations such as the Merseyside Asbestos Victim Support Group provide assistance and advocacy for individuals affected by asbestos-related diseases. These groups work tirelessly to raise awareness about the dangers of asbestos and to support those seeking compensation for their illnesses.

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The history of asbestos in Liverpool is a poignant reminder of the industrial past and its long-term health consequences. While significant progress has been made in managing and mitigating asbestos risks, the legacy of this hazardous material continues to affect many lives. Liverpool’s experience with asbestos underscores the importance of stringent health and safety regulations and the need for continued vigilance in protecting workers and the public from such hazards.

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