Tonnes of used material containing the cancerous asbestos lie around the tunnels of Prague’s subway. The law states that asbestos is dangerous waste and shouldn’t be there.
Health officers have already began probing the subway situation.
The fireproof asbestos-cement grooves protect the supply cables against a potential fire on all metro routes. The law states that they should be gradually replaced and stored at designated landfills.
The Prague Public Transit Company abides halfway, leaving the grooves behind in the subway.
In the past, the Czech Environmental Inspectorate has fined in hundred thousands for offences of this kind.
Apparently no looming threat
As Aktuálně.cz found out, the asbestos-cement grooves often hang freely from the hooks on the tunnel walls between, for instance, Malostranská and Staroměstská stop on the A route and between Můstek and Muzeum stops. Evidence collected on the spot suggests that they’re not in a good condition.
Three years ago, a specialist company carried away and disposed of the grooves. According to Aktuálně.cz, the grooves continue to be dismantled and the dangerous waste remains underground. Let’s remind ourselves that the subway hauls thousands of passengers through there everyday.
The Prague City Council indirectly said that the Prague Public Transit Company was breaching the law.”It would be an offense if the grooves laid about freely without being secured and if they weren’t collected by a competent person before handed over,” the Environment Bureau writes in its statement.
Not a time bomb, experts reassure
Aktuálně.cz approached a number of experts on legislature concerning dangerous waste, including the Environment Ministry. According to health officers of the National Institute of Public Health, the asbestos in the subway isn’t a hazard. The Prague Public Transit Company is nevertheless violating the law, officials say.
“Asbestos-cement products belong to the so-called products with firmly fixed asbestos—the asbestos isn’t released into the air. Their storage—unless the products are mechanically impaired—doesn’t pose a substantial threat to human heath,” Ariana Lajčíková of the National Institute of Public Health says.
From Aktuálně.cz’s photo evidence, however, it’s apparent that some of the grooves are damaged, broken or carelessly hung.
Health officers are already monitoring the situation. In fact, train drivers have complained about the grooves freely lying about. The first pre-assessment showed that the asbestos fibres aren’t being released from the grooves yet, but health officers are newly at work inside the tunnels.
Transit company keeps silent
The asbestos grooves can only be removed by a specialized business whose employees can only handle the material wearing disposable suits and special mouth filters. According to the law, they are supposed to store the grooves in marked and sealed containers and carry them off to a landfill.
Evidently, this isn’t happening in the Prague subway for a second year now. It’s not yet clear why it is so. The Prague Public Transit Company isn’t responding to Aktuálně.cz’s questions, though the company provided a written statement to health officers.
Metro faces a fine
According to a well-informed source, the asbestos-cement grooves are also being manipulated by unauthorized individuals. “Old metro cables are continuously being replaced with new ones, the asbestos-cement grooves are being moved around, sometimes they even fall down and a chunk breaks off,” the previously mentioned source says.
“Unless the products are mechanically damaged or someone crushes them with a jackhammer, the intact asbestos-cement grooves can remain in the metro without being a hazard. I’m not saying that they should be lying there. If they haven’t been put to use, they should be stored at a designated location,” Ariana Lajčíková of the National Institute of Public Health told Aktuálně.cz.
So far, the Czech Environmental Inspectorate hasn’t investigated the asbestos in the subway, but its inspectors fined in hundred thousands those who have handled the risky material in disregard to the legal regulations.
Most cases concerned the unqualified removal of debris from roofs of houses that also contained the dangerous asbestos fibres.