Wednesday 31 January 2018

Brent Council responds to Cllr Duffy's questions & announces public meeting on asbestos issue

Alleged possible asbestos dust a Paddington Cemetery

Cllr Duffy has received a reply from Brent Council to his questions LINK regarding the asbestos dump at Paddington Cemetery. His tenacity has succeeded in getting a fuller account than that given hitherto and getting more information put into the public domain. It is likely that he will have further questions to put to the Council.

Public Meeting on the asbestos contamination of Paddington Old Cemetery. Tuesday 6 February 2018 at 7pm at Kilburn Housing Co-operative, Kilburn Square, Victoria Road, Kilburn, NW6 6PT.


Dear Cllr Duffy,

The council’s Chief Executive has asked me to respond to your latest correspondence on this matter (received Monday 29th January). Your original email is provided below for reference (SEE LINK)

This response should also serve to answer the same (or very similar) questions raised in your email to Amar Dave, dated 24th January.

I will deal with each of your points in turn.

-       I agree that the Audit Advisory Committee (AAC) report and the Delta Simons report are separate reports. They consider two separate matters, both raised by yourself.

-       The purpose of the AAC report was to investigate your allegation that the asbestos contamination was a deliberate and illegal act. No evidence was found to support your allegation.

-       This report did examine the 2015 transfer of soil from other Brent cemeteries to Paddington. Soil (not asbestos) was imported for ground levelling purposes from three other council cemeteries using bulk lorries provided by Veolia and another contractor. The council did not knowingly load, transfer, or receive contaminated waste. Despite your suggestion, it has not been established that this soil was in any way contaminated by asbestos.

-       The Delta Simons report was a different report, with a different remit. It recorded the findings of the most recent ground survey of the site and quantified the level of contamination. It gave a comprehensive risk assessment based on those findings.

-       In response to your references to the wellbeing of the operatives, I can confirm that Veolia, their employers, have been attentive to their health and safety throughout this matter. You are aware that excavations ceased in May when asbestos was found. Other simple ground maintenance has also been minimised since May. Two burials in family graves have been undertaken by a specialist contractor, not Veolia, and the removal of some soil was undertaken only after a risk assessment had been done. This was previously provided to you for your information.

-       Your further and repeated reference to the council knowingly transferring asbestos to the cemetery must again be challenged. That is simply not supported by any evidence. 

I refer now to the two dates listed in your section titled ‘The Perfect Storm’. I can provide the following details.

24th June
It is not evident from the photographs what work, if any, is being undertaken. From May, when traces of asbestos were discovered at a depth of 6-7ft, Veolia exercised their duty of care and chose to cease burials and ground excavations until a ground survey was undertaken to establish the extent of any contamination. In the intervening period, only very occasional grass cutting is likely to have been undertaken by Veolia in order to maintain the amenity of this public site for visitors. This activity will normally require the use of protective equipment and will not be undertaken when members of the public are present. As you will appreciate, Veolia prioritise their duty of care to their staff and to other people. Such operations are usually undertaken by teams who might move from location to location and so the suggestion they were ‘bussed in’ is neither disputed nor unusual.

30th November
Some soil was removed from the site by a licensed waste carrier. This followed a full risk assessment. The area was cordoned off and the soil was covered prior to its transfer (your photograph gives some indication of that). You were previously provided with the risk assessment document and the waste transfer note.

I refer now to your section ‘No new evidence’ and your three questions. I will respond to each of these in turn.

1.      Could you confirm that the AAC report is a internal restricted report and the public will never be allowed to view or reference that report?

I can confirm that the AAC report was initially restricted for its consideration by the Committee in December. However, it has been publicly available on the council’s website since the last Audit Advisory Committee on the 10th January. LINK

2.      Can you confirm that you are aware the Delta Simons report states "The Client ( Brent Council) as landowner (and potentially as employer) has a duty to manage to ensure exposure is kept as low as reasonably practicable; further, the assessment has identified the potential for exposures to exceed a level at which has been considered in civil litigation as being a material contributor to a case of mesothelioma"?

The council accepts its obligation to undertake remediation of the site to ensure levels of potential exposure are kept to as low a level as possible. That will happen and the council has now commissioned specialist plans for that remediation. It is likely soil will be removed in bulk and replaced. This will be followed by a re-landscaping of The Mound. In terms of the exposure risk, this has now been confirmed as an ‘acceptable’ risk for walkers and casual visitors to the site and a ‘tolerable’ risk to those excavating the soil over a lifetime period. The report identified that ‘those working within the soils would be exposed to a greater degree of risk than those engaged in works that do not involve soil excavation; this may be considered part and parcel of the type and nature of work they are engaged in and remunerated for; any persons whose duties involve digging through soils or made ground will be exposed to contaminants including both ‘natural’ (e.g. arsenic) and anthropogenic inclusions. For comparative purposes, the concentrations, types and friability of the asbestos found are not uncommon from those encountered in many investigations of previously developed sites and the urban environment.’ Further discussions with Delta Simons last Friday confirmed that the contamination level across The Mound is 0.001%. Their view is that the risk is almost non-existent and is comparable to the risk encountered when walking down any street in Brent, or in a similar urban environment. They also made clear that the levels of contamination they measured during their survey means the soil can be considered ‘non-hazardous’ for disposal purposes. Their view on protective clothing is that it is not really necessary so long as basic hygiene precautions are undertaken by anyone working in the soil and that a simple damping down of the soil is sufficient in order to mitigate any risk when digging.

3.      Can you confirm that since new evidence has now been made known to you - in paragraphs  titled "Perfect Storm" and "Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH)” above - you will commission an Independent Investigation into the manner in which the council handled issues following the delivery of the contaminated waste in August 2015.

I refer you to the responses given at 2 and 3 above, particularly Delta Simon’s confirmed view on the levels of contamination and the risk. I ask that you consider these facts and that you reflect on the final conclusion of their report which states - ‘It is considered unlikely from the assessment undertaken that the risk identified would be sufficient to drive regulatory action by Statutory Regulators in relation to land contamination, nor is it considered likely that the conditions and concentrations encountered are likely to be of interest to the Health and Safety Executive in relation to asbestos under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.’

A further investigation is not proposed. As has been made clear, the enquiries conducted by Brent’s Internal Audit were considered and discussed by the council’s Audit Advisory Committee on two separate recent occasions, namely, on 5 December 2017 and 10 January 2018. This Committee has an independent role and is chaired by an experienced non-councillor member of the Committee. The Committee also has another member independent of the Council, Eugene Sullivan, who was the previous Chief Executive of the Audit Commission.

To infer in any way that the investigation and furthermore the oversight of the matter is not    
independent is not accurate.

On 10 January 2018, the Committee concluded that, unless any new information came to light, there was no basis for any further investigation. It found that there is no available evidence or in fact any other information capable of forming the basis of any further enquiry or investigation. In other words, there is nothing that can be usefully investigated to reveal who is responsible for the soil contamination and what happened at the time that it was received at the cemetery. This audit process has therefore established no evidence of anyone delivering or receiving contaminated soil deliberately or in a fraudulent way in order to gain any advantage. In the circumstances, continuing to investigate this matter would be futile and, having initially considered litigation, have now concluded that there is no prospect of the council being able to take any legal action. Besides, the very small levels of contamination (0.001%) that are not uncommon in such soil would seem to counter any suggestion the contamination would have been very obvious to any party at the time in any case.

A public meeting is proposed for next Tuesday, 6th February. This will see the council present the facts and provide any further reassurance that may be needed.

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