Belfast Telegraph

Asbestos found at site of fire that swept through Northern Ireland shops

By John Mulgrew

Potentially deadly asbestos has been found at the site of a huge blaze which wiped out businesses in Ballymena last week, it can be revealed.

Flames engulfed six shops along Broughshane Street in the Co Antrim town last Tuesday.

Emails seen by the Belfast Telegraph have been sent to local councillors saying that asbestos was found at the site.

"On Friday (June 2), it was confirmed that debris on the road from the buildings that had been burnt contained asbestos," one email said.

"These contractors arrived today (Tuesday) and are currently decontaminating the site."

A second email sent on Wednesday said that "asbestos removals have commenced to Broughshane Street today and should be complete by the end of the day".

Asbestos doesn't pose a health threat if left undisturbed. But if someone breathes in asbestos fibres, it can cause serious illnesses such as asbestosis and a type of lung cancer.

The email also says that "forensic investigation" and a "structural survey" was due to be carried out on the building yesterday.

Demolition of the buildings damaged in the fire also began yesterday.

Ballymena TUV councillor Timothy Gaston, who works in health and safety, said "a few elected members raised concerns about the length of time it has taken" to get the street open as trade was being affected.

He said work appeared to have begun on the roof, along with a partial demolition.

But he said there should not be a huge danger to people in the area, as a result of the asbestos find.

Yesterday morning, Trafficwatch NI said the area remains closed between Suffolk Street and William Street.

The blaze started in the Woodgreen furniture store on Broughshane Street at around 5pm and quickly spread along the terrace of shops.

Woodgreen had been based in the town for decades, but now the family business has been reduced to charred rubble.

Shortly after the blaze took hold on Tuesday, videos emerged on social media showing the huge flames and thick smoke engulfing the properties as stunned locals looked on.

A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council confirmed asbestos was found in the roof tiles in one of the buildings after results from routine forensic investigations came through on Friday.

"The tiles had been dampened down in the extinguishing of the blaze and council were satisfied that any risk to members of the public was immediately addressed," they said.

"The extent of the cordon was re-considered and further secured."

The council said a risk assessment was carried out and approved for a clean-up to begin on Monday, which is now complete.

"It is anticipated that the road outside the affected buildings will reopen fully after demolition is completed and a further risk assessment carried out," they added.

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