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Why asbestos and knotweed can mean big business

It was sad to hear that Guy’s hospital had to close a few wards because it found asbestos in them.

Wonderful stuff asbestos, it won’t melt and no chemical exists that will damage it. You can’t set it on fire, it’s a great insulator and it’s as tough as old boots. The only teeny weenie downside is that it can kill you if it’s inhaled in any quantity.

The worst case I saw was in a cellar in Putney in south-west London. The house had not been touched since Terry Scott was on television advertising Curly Wurlys and in the cellar lived a massive old boiler with more pipes and dials than the Titanic.

There was white asbestos insulation everywhere, all of which was ancient and fraying, and it hung in the air like in one of those Christmas scenes bubble toys that you shake up and down just to see the floating snowy bits.

I can still remember opening the cellar door, flicking the light switch and wondering why I could not see more than a few yards when it suddenly dawned on me what was happening.

I legged it quicker than home secretary Jacqui Smith submits her expenses because, not unreasonably, I considered my life to be more important than anyone else’s back then and I still do.

Asbestos removal is big business and it’s quite an experience to see these people in action, which I have done many times.

They turn up looking like bee-keepers and seal off the road.

They then tape up every door and window and tip toe around like they’ve discovered an unexploded atomic bomb.

Their parting shot is to submit an invoice equivalent to the gross domestic product of a small African country and then disappear. Similarly, eradicating Japanese knotweed (pictured) is also now an industry in itself.

I attended a presentation some years ago organised for surveyors by a company specialising in this. After 45 minutes I was convinced that every house in the UK was threatened by these evil triffid-like plant monsters that make the Black Death seem like nothing more than a mild sniffy cold.

We were told that these weeds could penetrate anything and nothing could be done to kill them short of attacking them with a flame thrower and then covering them with a 15ft thick titanium reinforced concrete slab.

I wasn’t convinced so in the interests of research I acquired a Japanese knotweed plant and put it on my desk in my office.

It flourished for the next few weeks until one Friday evening when we had our usual week ending bottle or two of Rioja.

I didn’t finish the fifth glass, the dregs of which I poured over the weed and on Monday morning it was dead. I believe I have saved the human race from a terrible fate and I await my CBE as part of the New Year’s honour’s list.


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