Asbestos inspection sparks health concerns among building residents

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 September, 2012, 3:04am

Residents of a government-owned block of flats are concerned for their health after a building contractor handed out flyers saying it was inspecting it for asbestos, a cancer-causing substance.

People who have been living at 111 Mount Butler Road, Jardine's Lookout, for years say they have not been told of the extent of the problem, and fear a lack of information about asbestos is a chronic problem across the city.

"There was an inspection around five years back and I thought they'd taken it out," said one resident who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was a civil servant.

"We've never been told where it is. A colleague asked for a copy of the report for his flat and he wasn't given it. He was told it was an internal document."

The case follows the demolition of similar blocks in Borrett Road this year without proper safety precautions. Seven summonses have been issued to a contractor involved in that case, with the first court hearing due to take place tomorrow.

A government spokeswoman said no other government residences contained asbestos and that asbestos at the Mount Butler property was "sealed/encased in concealed locations which are normally out of reach by occupants and so its existence poses no health risk".

A 2006 government-funded inspection found some flats had asbestos in pipe insulation concealed in wall plaster, behind basin cupboards and under bath tubs as well as in adhesives for vinyl floor tiles in the servant's room and store room.

Residents were told of the presence of asbestos at the time, but new tenants were not informed because all flats underwent asbestos reduction before being leased again, the government spokeswoman said. She said there were no rules requiring real estate agents to tell tenants if a building contained asbestos.

"It's important information to convey. We usually disclose it, if we know about it," said Chris Liem, owner of property firm Engel and Volkers.

But agents the Sunday Morning Post spoke to at Centaline, Midland Realty and Hong Kong Homes were unaware of the term asbestos or were unwilling to speak. "It's not something most people [in Hong Kong] are aware about," Liem said. "They're more concerned with things here and now."

The effects of inhaling asbestos fibres do not show until years, or decades, later.

The substance has been linked to diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma. In Hong Kong, the government has set up a fund - the Pneumoconiosis Compensation Fund - to compensate workers exposed to asbestos. But there is no such fund for members of the public.

The government says it does not have a comprehensive list of buildings that contain asbestos. But buildings built before 1987 are likely to contain asbestos according to Lee Yarnall, an asbestos removal consultant.