Saturday 16 June 2018

The destruction of the National Institute for Medical research and the risks we need to consider

This week, we've been filming a video for our band around and about in the London Borough of Barnet. One of the locations we've chosen has been the former site of the National Institute for Medical Research. As I was editing up the video, I used some of the out takes and spare footage to put together a very short little video commemorating the sad demise of a well known landmark. I hope you enjoy it.

I happened to be up at Finchley Nurseries this morning and showed the video to Mr Laurence Bard who runs Pond Life, the onsite aquatic centre. Mr Bard told me that the demoliotion is a serious matter, he forwarded me several rather disturbing emails, that seem to suggest that a building that housed dangerous pathogens and radioactive Isotopes may not be a completely safe site.

Here is the text of an email sent by a safety officer working in Environmental Health at Barnet Council to Mr Bard

Mr Bard,
Thank you for your email.
I have every sympathy with you and your businesses situation. I would just like to clarify the LA  was not informed about the SBS exercise in late March. Unfortunately  there is not any enforcement activity I can take retrospectively that can recompense you for the damage to your business. You can consider private action against the Developer demolition company and the MOD.
Anna Cane has been asking the developers about their vibration monitoring and seen the results since the 18th May. The vibration levels are significantly  below the levels that cause damage to surrounding buildings, however there was one event that vibration levels were just above the British Standard  for nuisance.In my experience vibration can be experienced well below the British standard levels which understandably leads to complaints by residents, but LA have limited enforcement powers if this is the case. The vast majority of hazardous materials have been removed prior to demolition. Further to my recent email, during the drier weather an Officer visited on the 1st June and saw the 2 dust busters in operation, and water sprays from the JCB pecker see first 3 photos above. The road condition was good and largely free from dust. The weather was hot and sunny over the weekend so an officer visited yesterday morning and noticed there was good spraying on site and watering from a bowser, however there was a dust problems on the road as there was some mud turned into dusty earth near the access where lorries wheels were trundling through causing dust on the road.  The jet wash facility was being used but  not satisfactory as the lorries were going over dusty ground after their wheels were washed. See 4th photo attached.The 5th photo shows the dust suppression yesterday. The officer spoke to the site manager on site to rectify this and it was agreed there will be a dedicated wheel wash facility  installed in a couple of weeks when the access to the site changes. In the meantime the developer will be told to sweep the roads more than twice a day with their road sweeper and use the Jet wash closer to the exit to clean wheels if practicable. I understand your concerns about the dust levels when the site is closed on Sundays on Sundays, to be fair to the developers it is rare on any site when it is closed to be watered down and I note your concerns with effectiveness of the water suppression out of hours- we will ask the developer to use coagulants in the dust suppressors if it’s hot ,windy or prior to when the site closes as this takes 4 times longer than water to dry out.  Anna Cane visited the site in the afternoon and took more pictures of the site which show on site there was not a lot of dust from the demolition area but there was still dust on the roads from the materials being removed from lorries dusty wheels. we will monitor this for nuisance. The case law for statutory nuisance states that clouds of dust from sites have to visibly affect the habitable part of premises to be a formal nuisance, unfortunately dust on the road or cars is in itself does not constitute a nuisance. From the 3 recent visits officers did not witness dust clouds affecting habitable parts of neighbouring premises to have the power to take formal action. However Environmental Health completely understand residents’ concerns about dust and will continue to monitor site activities. Anna Cane has written to the site with our above concerns regarding the dust from lorries leaving the site, and has asked for the  records of the vibration monitoring prior to the 18th May, however the incident at the end of March was prior to the main demolition and monitoring may not have occurred.Please contact the case officer if you have further concerns.

Kind regardsRalph Haynes Group Manager Consultancy and Scientific Services, Environmental HealthDepartment of Development and Regulatory ServicesLondon Borough of Barnet, Barnet House, 1255 High Road Whetstone, N20 0EJTel: 020 8359 7448 Barnet Online: 

I worked at the Medical Research in the late 1970's. Among the diseases being studied at the time was "Green Monkey Fever" which is one of the most deadly pathogens on the planet. The protocol for entering and leaving labs where these pathogens were present were enormously stringent.

 When Mr Haynes says "The vast majority of hazardous materials have been removed prior to demolition" what exactly does he mean. Combined with the fact that dust is being spread out all over Mill Hill and their is a primary school within 100 yards of the site, I cannot understate my concerns.

In short, there is a potential for risk. Mr Haynes and Barnet Council need to urgently explain what hazardous materials remain and reassure residents that there is zero chance of any of these posing a risk to residents.

Mr Bard is extremely upset that there seems to be a less than serious regime of safety at the site and he is not at all reassurred by what he has seen.

If you look carefully at the above video, you will see that the "dust suppression spray rises no more than three floors high, which means that dust from the upper floors can be blown far and wide around Mill Hill.

I have seen many buildings in Central London which have been demolished, due to issues with Asbestos. For these buildings, the whole building is wrapped in a polythene cladding to ensure no dust escapes. I am not an expert in such matters, but I think it is only fair to ask whether this would be appropriate for a building such as the NIMR.

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