Royal accounts have recently revealed that almost £1 million has been spent to date in removing asbestos, first installed in the 1940s, from ducts underneath Buckingham Palace. However, the Royal accounts also state that further, necessary asbestos removal work will continue to take place over the next fifteen to twenty years.

More recently, twenty one rooms at Kensington Palace have also been completely gutted and all the under floor spaces cleared of asbestos insulation under a major £ 600,000 restoration project ahead of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge taking residence.

Overall, nearly £10 million of government grant-in-aid has been spent to carry out major refurbishments at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, St. James’ Palace and other royal buildings.

In September 2012, it was reported that at least £1 billion of maintenance is needed to remove asbestos, as well as repair brickwork and upgrade water and electricity supplies at the House of Commons. Major renovations have not been carried out on the building’s interior since war time repairs in 1941.

Thousands of ordinary buildings…

The problem of dealing with extensive asbestos contamination contained within the fabric of well-known, historic buildings reflects the much wider issue of the continuing presence of asbestos in the many thousands of ordinary public and private buildings around Britain, including schools, hospitals, housing estates and factory sites.

The use of asbestos fibres in insulation and fireproofing materials manufactured for industrial, engineering and shipbuilding applications was already widespread by the 1940s.

Following World War Two, a rapid reconstruction programme was introduced, which allowed homes to be quickly and cheaply built, which inevitably meant all types of homes, from private dwellings to local authority housing were constructed with AIB (asbestos insulation board), asbestos cement roofing, boiler and pipework lagging.

Despite growing asbestos awareness to the long term serious health risks, from the 1950s to the late 70s and early 80s, many thousands of residential properties were built or renovated with acoustical and decorative surface plasters (Artex), loose asbestos sprayed loft/roof insulation, asbestos insulating wallboards, infill, ceiling and floor tiles.

Four million council homes…

When the UK introduced a ban on the use of brown amosite and blue crocidolite asbestos in 1985, a survey conducted in the same year by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities (AMA) estimated that asbestos containing materials (ACMs) were present in four million council homes, eighty per cent of 10,000 schools and over three quarters of social services buildings surveyed.

Despite the 1999 ban on the import of white asbestos (chrysotile), in 2003 it was believed that there was still around six million tonnes of asbestos hidden in properties throughout the UK, a significant proportion of which could be found in commercial and industrial premises.

Thirty per cent asbestos…

The construction industry continued to use white chrysotile asbestos fibres in building products, such as garage roofing and cement boiler housing right through until the 1990s. It is widely accepted that any property, especially in the public sector, built or renovated up until the end of the twentieth century is liable to contain between 5 per cent and 30 per cent of asbestos containing materials. Today, asbestos is thought to still reside in over 500,000 buildings around the country.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) state that 1.8 million people are still at risk of asbestos exposure and at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year. Once the fibre particles are inhaled they remain undetected within the pleural linings for a period of up to 50 years before asbestosis symptoms first appear and are recognised.