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Are illegal asbestos imports entering the UK?

Article by Laurie Kazan-Allen

A fortnight after an asbestos alert was raised over the possibility of banned asbestos imports entering the UK from China, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – the designated authority for policing regulations outlawing toxic imports – began enquiries regarding the supply chain and quality assurance practises of Yuanda (UK) Co. Ltd., a part of the Chinese- owned industrial conglomerate implicated in an ongoing Australian asbestos scandal.

Currently, Australian Border Force officials are impounding and inspecting all shipments of Chinese building materials by Yuanda Australia PTY Ltd. until they have been tested for asbestos. Asbestos-containing Yuanda products have been found on sites in Australia including that of a new children’s hospital, in Perth, Western Australia.

Having followed the unfolding scandal in Australia over recent weeks, the question was asked: is Yuanda also operating in the UK. Research undertaken established that the company was involved in several high-profile projects in London including those at 100 Bishopsgate, Newington Butts, Nova Victoria and One Blackfriars Road. Discussions amongst an ad hoc asbestos action group including victims, campaigners, medical professionals (Mesothelioma UK) and trade unionists led to a press release being issued on July 27, 2016 headlined: UK Toxic Asbestos Imports from China? At the same time, the group wrote to Alistair Lazenby, Yuanda UK’s CEO, and Richard Judge, CEO of the HSE. An August 1, 2016 reply from Yuanda’s Simon Cheesman, while reassuring was deemed inconclusive by members of the action group. Responses from the HSE on August 11 and August 16, 2016 were more substantive with news of “a formal investigation in relation to the potential import and use of asbestos by Yuanda (UK) Co. Ltd.” being received in the second email.

Throughout our enquiries, we have been in close touch with European labor federations and trade unions which are pursuing similar investigations as it has been established that Yuanda Europe projects are operational in France, Germany and Switzerland.

Commenting on the current situation, Laurie Kazan-Allen of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat said:

“Last year, we had raised a similar issue with the HSE after imports of asbestos-contaminated crayons, toys and consumer products from China were reported by the authorities in Italy, Spain, Ireland and Korea; all countries which, like the UK, had banned asbestos. At that time, no action was taken. This time round we are more hopeful. The fact that the authorities have launched a formal investigation gives us hope that workers and members of the public will be provided with the protection they deserve from potentially deadly exposures. Having written again to the HSE on August 23, we await their response. Watch this space!”