12 Nov 2015

Calais Jungle Camp littered with asbestos

Thousands of migrants camped out at a makeshift camp in Calais dubbed the “new Jungle” could be at risk of exposure to dangerous asbestos, a Channel 4 News investigation has found.

Channel 4 News has obtained evidence that the site of the camp is littered with Chrysotile, known as white asbestos. The asbestos has been broken into small pieces, making it potentially more toxic.

Samples taken from the site to a UKAS-accredited laboratory in Whitley Bay have confirmed the highly dangerous material is Chrysotile. Chrysotile has been designated a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and is a main cause of Pleural Mesothelioma.

In 1996 France banned the importation and sale of all forms of asbestos for public health reasons. Yet the French government is now building accommodation for migrants on the contaminated site.

The samples were gathered at the Jungle II site in Calais, in a sandy area which has become a makeshift camp for mainly Sudanese migrants. An estimated 6000 migrants are now believed to be camped out in the area.

Small, broken pieces of asbestos were lying around on the sand. Photographic evidence seen by Channel 4 News shows broken pieces of the deadly material being used to hold down plastic sheeting on makeshift tents used by migrants.

One group of young Sudanese men invited Channel 4 News into their temporary “home” and pointed out at once that it is almost impossible to avoid treading in asbestos fragments just trying to leave their front door to go out.

Calais camp

Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson run the “Good Chance Theatre” at the camp for those who pass through here or stay longer, trying in the main, to get into Britain.

They came across the asbestos and once found in one place, they quickly realised it was all over the camp.

“We didn’t know what it was until it was pointed out to us but it is everywhere and nobody seems quite sure how it got here,” said Mr Robertson.

The site of the camp, in sand dunes close to the Calais port terminal has reportedly been used in the past as a landfill site.

Dr Surindar Dhesi, an expert in Occupational Health, Safety and the Environment at the University of Birmingham told Channel 4 News:”All forms of asbestos are known to increase the risk of cancer and the mechanism for that is asbestos is made up of fibres and these fibres can get deep into the lungs and the body can’t break them down or deal with them.

“So they sit there deep in the lungs and irritate and that can lead to diseases like asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer and thickening of the lungs.

“The asbestos that’s been found in the Calais camp has been broken into fragments. Now asbestos that’s been encapsulated in a material and if that material is in good condition, the risk is very low and it’s not something to worry about, but once that material is broken, there’s a potential for the fibres to escape and then they can be inhaled and that’s where the risk is.”

Calais camp

“Now asbestos has been found in the camp, my suggestion would be that a survey is carried out to identify where the asbestos is, it should then be collected by people who are competent and have the necessary equipment to do so, and it then needs to be disposed of properly.”

The discovery of deadly asbestos at the site is the latest health hazard to be identified at the camp, which is just metres away from two large chemical plants.

The two plants are covered by the European Union’s Seveso III directive as sites which contain dangerous substances and which could pose serious health hazards in the event of an accident.

A French government emergency plan shows an accident at the site could lead to the “risk of intoxication, fire and explosions” because the chemicals used at the plant are “inflammable, toxic to humans and toxic to the environment.”

An Environmental Health Assessment of the camp carried out by academics from the University of Birmingham for the Economic & Social Research Council found extremely poor living conditions, including one toilet per 75 residents, far below the minimum standards set by the United Nations for refugee camps.

They found the lack of washing facilities and dry bedding was leading to outbreaks of scabies, bedbugs and lice.

Tests on the air quality revealed “extremely high levels of particularates associated with burning were found in the air” creating the risk of “respiratory infections, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.”

Clashes with police

In recent days tensions at the camp have ratcheted up, with frequent clashes between migrants and the police. Last night 250 French riot police were deployed to the site. They fired teargas at protestors and arrested a number of activists they accuse of inciting migrants to riot.

Pierre-Henry Brandet, a French Interior Ministry spokesman said: “Behind it all there are a certain number of individuals, including No Borders militants, who are exploiting the misery and distress, who incite these migrants in distress and disarray, to riot, to commit violence against police, and to do whatever it takes at all costs to cross the border, especially to England. There is at the same time distress, human misery and serious exploitation on the part of a certain number of individuals.”

A local government official, Fabienne Buccio, claimed the trouble was sparked because of growing frustration among the migrants who are finding increasingly difficult to reach the UK.

The Calais investigation was carried out in conjunction with Sharron Ward of Katalyst Productions.