Risk of killer dust haunts former tenants

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The Independent Online
The first they knew of it was when visiting workmen could not stop sneezing. More than a decade on, the former tenants of the Points flats in west London, may be living with a time bomb, after it was revealed their two blocks were filled with potentially lethal asbestos.

They only realised the full extent of the risk when officials arrived in protective suits and masks. But just as it became apparent to tenants in 1989, 100 homeless families were moved there, unaware of the problem.

Among the first to arrive at Chantry Point in 1989 was Safia Ahmed, 35, a Somalian refugee, and her three children. "I'm so angry that they did not tell us about it, it was so wrong, so arrogant, just like `mad cow disease'," she said.

"It's a terrible mental strain knowing how to cope with it. My kids have their whole futures in front of them, but they could reach 20 and find they have a terrible illness. I haven't talked to them about it yet. I'm not sure what to say."

The risk of exposure to asbestos, which can cause serious respiratory diseases and increase the risk of lung cancer, has been known for decades. But the illnesses may take 20 to 40 years to develop, and children are believed to be particularly susceptible.

Tenants in the Points watched the arrival of the new families with shock. Stan Bruno, 59, a retired telephone engineer, had covered his flat in thick emulsion and plastic sheeting in an attempt to limit exposure to asbestos particles.

"We've been exposed, we've taken the risk. All we can do is get on with our lives. But they should be prepared to account for the bunch of rakes they are. The whole thing was utterly corrupt."

Tenants of the Points, which were finally demolished in 1994, were infuriated further by a letter sent to them by Bill Roots, chief executive of Westminster City Council, yesterday. He claimed "people who drive to work every day" were at "greater risk" of health problems.

While those who lived in the Points attempt to carry on their lives, they say it is impossible not to feel anger at the council.

Ann De Souza, 46, who lived in Hermes Point between 1980 and 1990, recalled when officials finally arrived to take the asbestos away.

She said: "We saw the men come in their great big white space suits, and that's when we really started worrying, and getting angry. Here were these council people coming in with all this protection, but they allowed us to live there without any protection at all, and there were so many children."

In the independent report, commissioned by the council, it is clearly stated there was cause for concern. It says: "The exposure suffered by some individuals may yet result in serious health consequences . . . It is therefore important to express the seriousness of Westminster City Council's lack of care."