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Concerns over asbestos removal

asbestos amiandos
A recent photo showing how far the reforestation of Amiandos has progressed

Big project on asbestos-laden Berengaria village expected to take place next year

By Bejay Browne

AN MP is pressing the government to better manage the former Amiandos asbestos mine, part of which is currently used as a facility to dispose of the deadly mineral, ahead of a big asbestos removal project due to start next year.

The burial of asbestos-containing materials in a section of the mine in the heart of the Troodos mountain range was authorised by the government in November 2009, and covers asbestos waste generated during 2009-2019.

However, Green party MP, Charalambous Theopemptou, told the Sunday Mail that as the site was ‘unlicensed’, that there were no terms and conditions in place.

“There is no plan for asbestos treatment and management at the site, as far as I know. And there should be in accordance with Law 185 of 2011. It notes that if a company is set up to collect and transport waste, it must have a permit. We don’t manage it well and we need to examine why,” he said.

feature asbestos - Former British military living quarters at Berengaria village (Charalambous Theopemtou)
Former British military living quarters at Berengaria village (Charalambous Theopemtou)

But the director of the Geological Survey Department (GSD), Costas Constantinou, said strict procedures were in place to ensure the safe disposal of asbestos, adding that a special area in the former mine is used for storing the mineral and only after it has been carefully prepared.

“We think it’s the most safe and secure place,” Constantinou said. “There are already tons [of asbestos] on the site anyway, it’s a natural place where it is in big quantities.”

Those who want to get rid of asbestos waste need to apply to the government. The relevant committee of the environment department, considers the quantity and then approves or disapproves the application.

“In theory we can disapprove, but this hasn’t happened so far,” said the director. There are terms for the acceptance. It is a question of preparing the site, and the material needs to be prepared and transported in the appropriate way. Only then, about once a year, is a delivery of the waste made to Amiandos where it is buried.

Questions over the disposal of asbestos have resurfaced following media reports last week that the British Bases had reached agreement with the government to dispose of around 50 containers of asbestos in Amiandos instead of exporting it as they usually do. It later transpired that they had only discussed the matter with the government but not formally applied and decided to export the waste after all.

feature asbestos - Asbestos roof at an abandoned home in Berengaria (Charalambos Theopemptou)
Asbestos roof at an abandoned home in Berengaria (Charalambos Theopemptou)

The Amiandos mine opened in 1904 and operated until 1988. At the height of its production in the 1930s around 6,000 people were employed there.

Until the 1990s, this section of the Troodos mountains was marred by a huge, grey and barren hillside scar, the price of 84 years of mining, but in recent years the results of an extensive reforestation project are now clearly visible. The project which began in 1996 should be completed by 2030.

Reforesting, landscaping and making the area safe has made it less hazardous for residents and more appealing to visitors with a botanical garden and geological museum on part of the reclaimed site.

“The site is being restored by the forestry department, covered in trees and shrubs, there is a botanical garden, and where the asbestos has been taken out of the ground – as it could pose a health hazard – it has been covered with half a metre of gravel,” Theopemptou said:

But finding available space for the disposal of asbestos remains an issue with a huge project, costing millions, expected to start next year.

Asbestos from the abandoned Berengaria village in the Limassol district will be taken to the defunct mine and enough room needs to be available for it to be disposed of, said Theopemptou.

Berengaria was built for British military personnel and sits near the Limassol highway. It covers a huge area and encompasses houses, a church, a school and a cinema, which were built using asbestos materials in the 1950s and 1960s, before people became aware of the dangers and harmful effects of asbestos.

British soldiers and their families lived in Berengaria until 1999, and in 2010 the area became the property of the Cyprus government. Buildings have now fallen into disrepair and asbestos fibres are increasingly becoming a health hazard for the areas close by, said Theopemptou.

“All of the roofs are asbestos and asbestos was used to insulate the walls. The village was abandoned and neighbours complained as they weren’t happy about living next to a huge area with asbestos posing a danger, and they wanted it removed,” he said.

feature asbestos - A miner at work in 1927
A miner at work in 1927

“The budget is of a few million to remove and restore the area. Money from the structural fund of the EU will be used.”

Asbestos is notoriously difficult to handle and most effective way, according to Theopemtou, is to take the asbestos sheets and bundle it in plastic. It will then be put into the Amiandos mine, deep inside the shafts, which lead to the heart of the mountain. He said this is currently the best option available.

“It will be buried there, where it first came from.”

feature asbestos - Amiandos mine in 1995 before the reclamation programme began
Amiandos mine in 1995 before the reclamation programme began

Another option, to dispose of it chemically, is exorbitantly expensive while forming the asbestos into blocks and then covering it with cement to use as building blocks, which is yet another option, is hazardous as the asbestos eventually seeps back into the earth.

“Inside the plastic it can remain for years,” said Theopemptou.

The budget to clean up Berengaria will be available in 2017 when work will start.

Removing the asbestos will take about a year when the Cyprus Institute of Technology will further improve the area and use it as student housing.

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