Paddington Old Cemetery update

There are only extremely low, trace levels of asbestos in the soil at Paddington Old Cemetery – 0.001%. This is the same level that pretty well any Londoner might typically find in their own back garden. Visitors and neighbours are all safe.

Introduction

We know that people have concerns about reports of asbestos contamination of soil in Paddington Old Cemetery, so we would like to be able to reassure visitors to and neighbours of the cemetery that they are safe, so we have listed some hard facts below, all backed up by our independent experts.  We also set out below what we’re doing next to further reassure people, including working closely with the neighbouring school. 

There have also been all sorts of worrying rumours flying around about how this situation came about, so below we are also publishing a timeline of what happened, as well as publishing five detailed investigatory reports/documents, and four other documents.  We held a public meeting on 6 February near the cemetery, and heard the concerns of local people attending.  As a result, we are now taking further action to help reassure them, as detailed below.

Facts

Fact 1: Once the council became aware that there may be an issue with the soil, we commissioned independent experts to carry out a thorough site inspection. We can confirm that they found very small trace levels of asbestos in some of the soil in the raised area of Paddington Old Cemetery known as the Mound section. 0.001%. No higher than a typical Londoner could expect to find in their own back garden.

Fact 2: The independent report found that the cemetery is safe for people to continue to visit without needing to take any additional precautions. Neighbours are every bit as safe.

Fact 3: Whenever we discover asbestos, we take it extremely seriously and in this case we have been working closely with our partners Veolia, who operate the cemetery and employ the cemetery staff. The report established a ‘tolerable’ risk to those digging into the soil for a long period of time. The report says: ‘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.’

Fact 4: When it was established that the Mound section of the cemetery was contaminated with very small ‘trace’ levels of asbestos, the council ceased new burials, to allow the council to carefully consider the right way to proceed. The council was respectful of the burials already booked in at that time, and have since then continued to conduct burials of relatives in existing shared plots. For these burials, gravediggers wore disposable coveralls, which the experts advised was the most appropriate safety precaution for the staff who dig the graves. This has happened on two occasions since May 2017.

Fact 5: It is not uncommon to find asbestos in soil in urban areas and it appears that some contaminated soil was brought into the cemetery many years ago. Asbestos is often present in our wider environment - in soil and in the air - and can come about from a number of sources. Frequently, demolition, redevelopment and maintenance works can result in asbestos contamination on soils, due to different materials being mixed into the soil itself.

Fact 6: The final conclusion of the specialists’ report states: ‘It is considered unlikely 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.’

What next:

Even though our experts say that the level of asbestos in the soil in the cemetery is at extremely low levels (0.001%), and no higher than anyone in London might typically find in their own back garden, we do understand that the rumours flying around about this will have worried people.  That is why we are going to remove the soil in question, and landscape the affected parts of the cemetery, so people can be entirely confident in the future.  We are discussing the right time to do this with the neighbouring school, so as to cause as little disruption to them as possible.  

How did this all come about:

We’re absolutely committed to being open, honest and transparent about this situation, so we’re publishing here a timeline of exactly what happened and when.  We’re also publishing two Internal Audit reports (and their detailed appendices) along with our independent expert’s inspection report and findings.  Because people have asked for them, we’re also publishing a range of other operational documents. If you read these, we’re sure you’ll see why we are so confidently reassuring visitors to the cemetery and also neighbours that there is no risk to their health as a result.

 

 

 

If you do have any questions or concerns, you can email cemeteries@brent.gov.uk