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Tampering triggers cancer scare

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The concrete and cement industries have revealed details of a 'deliberate' incident that has seen the curse of concrete cancer loom over construction once again.

They are reacting to a series of extraordinary incidents - running from 2002 to 2004 - when employees at Lafarge's Westbury Works deliberately failed to report 'unsatisfactorily high alkali levels' on some of the cement produced.

As a result, cement and concrete was supplied to cerain construction sites with alkali levels high enough to trigger the damaging Alkali Silica Reaction (ASR), more popularly known as Concrete Cancer.

The motivation for the deliberate tampering is as yet unclear, as no one from the firm is prepared to explain how or why it happened.

A joint statement by the British Cement Association, the Concrete Society, the Concrete Centre and Lafarge itself insisted that the problem was restricted to a limited area. They also insisted that the volume of concrete affected was a mere 1,000m 3, delivered over the two-year period.

However, the area supplied by the cement works takes up a large swathe of England's south and west, with Avon, Berkshire, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Oxfordshire, Somerset and Wiltshire all affected.

A spokesman for Lafarge stated that the problems will only affect those who purchased ready-mix or high-strength concrete from the Westbury Works between September 2002 and December 2004.

Alistair Gale, Lafarge's head of communications, said the company was unable to provide any further details.

'A couple of people at the Westbury Works chose to deliberately do this. I am however unable to say why they would, ' he said. 'It would not be appropriate for me to speculate about the actions of two individuals.

'This is an incident that we deeply regret. But it was also something that we found ourselves, and like any responsible company we are taking all the appropriate measures.

'We have identified any structures that we believe are at any risk of developing ASR and have told their owners, and we are working with them, ' Gale added. 'We have also put in place additional procedures at all our works to ensure that it will not happen again.'

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