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A precautionary tale we should all take seriously

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Having recently been caught up in an exasperating and costly site delay due to the finding of asbestos cement shards in the fill below a demolished building, we initially read the reassuring words of John Bridle on the anodyne nature of white asbestos with interest (AJ 11.7.02).

His protestations that companies that stand to profit from stringent controls exaggerate the risks. He cites 'junk science bought and paid for by vested interests', and complains about 'experts that have written the new laws [who] all work for the industry that will profit from these new regulations'. All this tended to play on our worst suspicions about EU bureaucracies.

But then we look at John Bridle's claim to technical authority and see that he is consultant to the Asbestos Cement Product Producers Association.

Thanks very much for the advice, but we would rather trust the investigations of the Chase Manhattan Bank lawyers or the World Trade Organisation, which has said: 'Chrysotile is a carcinogen; the concept of controlled use is unrealistic and safer substitutes exist.' It is striking that neither Bridle nor Austin Williams address the evidence or arguments put forward by Sam Webb.

Williams claims that the number of deaths proven to be directly related to the inhaling of white asbestos fibres is small.

The requirements for proof of cause beyond all reasonable doubt are very onerous and difficult in cases of medical conditions which develop following a long post-exposure time delay.

Since the risks of asbestos (including white) have been recognised since 1898, we should be able to draw a line and require that there be no more unwitting victims. Let the precautionary principle prevail.

Kate Macintosh and George Finch, Finch Macintosh Architects, Winchester

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