In May the cricket world was celebrating the news that England had won a nine-wicket victory to gain a 2-0 lead against Sri Lanka in the 3-match series. In a historic record-breaking competition, Team captain, Alistair Cook, was not only the 12th player ever to score 10,000 Test runs but also the youngest ever cricketer, aged just 31 years and 157 days.

Amid all the well-deserved celebrations, however, there was a disturbing backdrop to the series of matches against Sri Lanka, which was first announced late last year. A second discovery of asbestos during the first phase of works to replace the old Warner Stand at Lord’s Cricket Ground has led to a four week delay in installing the seating.

White asbestos fibres had not been detected prior to work starting

The discovery of the deadly fibre insulation in the roof of the old stand was the first alert to raise asbestos awareness among all personnel involved in the project. Then just a month later, a second quantity of asbestos was uncovered “deep” within the base of the stand. As a result, the stand will be unavailable for use when the next Test against Sri Lanka starts in the second week of June.

More importantly, the discovery led the MCC to issue a statement to assure spectators who previously sat on the two tiers of seating involved, as well as tour parties and site workers, that there had been no risk.

At the same time, the Club is relooking at initial works advice concerning the possible presence of asbestos containing materials. It seems that the white asbestos fibres had not been detected on two separate occasions prior to work starting in September 2015. Furthermore, there is also a concern that asbestos may also be found when the Tavern and Allen Stands are planned to be demolished during the next phase of the redevelopment at the ground.

Warner Stand …”second worst in world cricket”

The MCC received planning permission from Westminster City Council in 2014 to replace the Warner Stand, described by the International Cricket Council (ICC) as the “second worst in world cricket”. Its 600 seats, with a restricted view among a number of other access and facility concerns, had long led many to consider the stand as “no longer fit for purpose”. The unexpected double discovery of asbestos may be seen as adding another, and potentially more deadly risk factor, to the list of issues involving the stand.

It seems the asbestos may have been hidden undetected since the Warner stand was completed in 1958, during the peak period of widespread asbestos use as insulation and fireproofing in the UK construction industry.

At the start of the 1950s, around 130,000 tons of all asbestos types, of which nearly a half was white “chrysotile” asbestos, was imported into the UK. Ten years later the figure for all asbestos imports had risen to around 160,000 tons, peaking at 183,000 tons in the early 1970s. A clear link between asbestos exposure and the development of asbestosis disease and fatal mesothelioma cancer had been established as far back as the as the 1930s when the first regulations were introduced.

Public buildings still containing hidden or poorly managed asbestos

It was not until the mid 1980s that a statutory ban on brwon and blue asbestos was introduced in the UK, but a further 15 years until imports of white asbestos were halted. While industrial use of asbestos insulation had declined from the late 1970s onwards, the damage had clearly been done. In the late 1960s, the British Mesothelioma Register was set up by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) in response to reports linking the disease with asbestos exposure. It was found that the number of mesothelioma deaths each year had increased dramatically to more than 1 per cent of all malignant cancer deaths recorded in Britain.

More than thirty years after the ban on asbestos use, the HSE continue to warn that there could be half a million or more public buildings still containing hidden or poorly managed asbestos in existence around the country. While the discovery of asbestos, said to be present in more than eighty per cent of Britain’s schools is repeatedly reported, Lords Cricket Ground is not the only public facility found to contain the hazardous fibres.

Many other types of public buildings have been found to pose an exposure risk including, hospitals, libraries, cinemas, town halls, swimming pools and sports centres.

Legal action over basketball training facility

One of the most high profile of locations involving an issue with asbestos occurred just before the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. A local residents campaign group took legal action over the building of a basketball training facility, which they claimed posed a health risk due to the large quantities of asbestos said to be mixed in with the soil, rubble and debris from landfill dating back to the 1960 and 70s.

The HSE, along with the professional building industry, caution that any building constructed up until 2000 (just after the final UK ban of white asbestos) should not be discounted from containing quantities of hidden asbestos. Prior to any renovations, it is a requirement of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012) for a full and detailed asbestos survey to be carried out by authorised contractors.