ALMOST 1,600 Housing Executive homes in Strabane still contain the toxic substance asbestos.
It is nearly 20 years since the UK government banned the use and import of asbestos. But according to statistics provided to the Strabane Chronicle under the Freedom of information Act, of the 2,127 homes still owned by the Housing Executive locally, 1,595 of them are presumed to contain the mineral.
Undisturbed asbestos does not present a risk to health. However when chipped, drilled, broken or allowed to deteriorate, it releases a fine dust which can lead to chronic lung problems among humans. It was regularly used by the construction industry throughout the 20th century but became unpopular during the 1980s due to an increase in conditions such as asbestosis and lung disease.
Currently investigations are being carried out in 58 homes across the Strabane District due to the condition of their asbestos while a further 22 have already had their roof spaces sealed because of its presence.
But speaking after publishing the figures, the Housing Executive said there was no need for alarm. They said a close eye was kept on asbestos in Housing Executive owned properties and that the safety of tenants was always a priority.
A spokesperson for the Housing Executive added that asbestos was not unique to homes in Northern Ireland and that it was present in properties of a certain age right across the UK.
Where possible, steps were always taken to remove the material from houses, the North’s biggest landlord said.
“The Housing Executive have a programme in place to manage asbestos in all of our properties.
“As part of that process, we have an ongoing survey strategy,” said a spokesperson.
“Through these surveys, we have discovered asbestos in a number of properties which require us to limit access to the affected areas.
“Of the 1,600 properties surveyed in Strabane, 58 properties were identified as requiring further investigation into the location and condition of asbestos.
“The Housing Executive is in the process of arranging for the asbestos to be removed in these properties and it is intended to have work completed by April of this year.
“Asbestos is not a unique situation to Northern Ireland and is a UK wide problem in social housing of a certain age.”
They added, “Asbestos only poses a risk if disturbed and we have a programme in place to manage any asbestos containing materials in our properties.
“Our first priority is the health and well-being of our tenants and, as such, steps are taken to limit access to affected areas in those properties where this has been deemed necessary.
“We advise all tenants of the process if asbestos containing materials have been found and where access needs to be restricted.
“We will continue to liaise with tenants on an individual basis and identify their needs in terms of accessing any restricted areas of their homes. In the event of carrying out any works in our properties either of a refurbishment or maintenance nature, the Housing Executive will, where possible, take the opportunity to remove the asbestos as part of the works.
“Removal will depend on refurbishment and maintenance works, the delivery of which are subject to change.”