Asbestos found on St John's Island, more than half of the island sealed

Audrey Tan Straits Times 23 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE - Debris containing a potentially toxic mineral was recently found on St John's Island, leading the authorities to seal off more than half of the island as a safety precaution.

Traces of asbestos had been detected on April 16 in construction debris such as roof tiles around the island's campsite, lagoon and holiday bungalow area, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) announced at a media briefing on Monday.

Even though the risk of visitors developing asbestos-related diseases is low due to short-term exposure to the mineral, SLA said it took the precaution of cordoning off the affected areas the following day (April 17). SLA, which manages the island, also closed off the campsite and cancelled about a dozen bookings for the holiday bungalow.

The two long-term residents on St John's Island, whose homes fall within the affected areas, also moved back to the mainland on April 18. SLA said they were found to be in good health.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was once a popular component in construction materials. Due to its links to health problems such as lung cancer, its use in buildings was banned in Singapore in 1989, but many earlier structures still contain the substance.

Structures containing asbestos pose no risk to humans if they are intact. However, when there is damage or disturbance - such as sawing and cutting - fibres may be released into the air and inhaled.

In this case, the asbestos was found in construction debris such as roof tiles. SLA is investigating how the debris came to the island.

Asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer or asbestocis, the progressive scarring of the lungs, occur mainly in people who have continuous years of exposure to high levels of asbestos, said Associate Professor Loo Chian Min, senior consultant for respiratory and critical care medicine at the Singapore General Hospital.

He said that casual visitors to St John's Island should not be unduly worried.

However, for the two long-term islanders, Prof Loo said: "I would advise them to go for a baseline health check. For asbestos to cause any illness, they would need 10 to 40 years before anything can happen. So a baseline would help to ascertain their health condition now, so there can be a comparison if anything should happen later."

Dr Jim Teo, a respiratory physician at Parkway East Hospital, said that the time and dosage of exposure could increase the risk of lung complications. While short term exposure to high concentrations of asbestos in an enclosed space may be potentially harmful, it could also take years to show, he said.

"Nowadays, exposure to asbestos is decreased... But asbestos was widely used decades ago, and as a result, we encounter cases only now," Dr Teo told The Straits Times.

He said a detailed history of the patient's occupation and the materials they handled at work provide important clues to their past exposure to the toxic mineral.

During the briefing on Monday, SLA said the affected areas will likely re-open only in mid-2019, after asbestos removal and other construction works are completed.

But visitors can still make the trip to the neighbouring Lazarus Island, which is connected to St John's Island by a bridge.

The ferries from Marina South Pier to the island will also continue plying the route.

Even though official figures show that at least 200 asbestos-removal cases take place every year, the asbestos on St John's Island is only the second prominent case.

The first was in 2016, when SLA found that the corrugated roof sheets of terraced houses in Chip Bee Gardens had asbestos in some of them.

In an update on Monday (April 23), SLA chief executive Tan Boon Khai said replacement works at Chip Bee are still ongoing.

Ms Ria Tan, who documents the creatures found in Singapore's nature areas, including the lagoons on St John's Island, said the incident raised a few questions, including how the asbestos debris landed on the island.

Ms Tan, who writes on on the wildsingapore.com blog, said: "Going forward, how will the authorities ensure future proper disposal of general trash and industrial and construction waste?"


More than half of St John's Island cordoned off after debris with asbestos found
Eugenia Lim Channel NewsAsia 23 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE: More than half of St John's Island has been cordoned off after debris containing asbestos was found on the island, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said on Monday (Apr 23).

The areas blocked off to the public include most of the island’s facilities such as the nature trail, campsite, lagoon and the holiday bungalow area, said SLA, which manages the island.

The closure took effect last Tuesday, a day after samples taken from the campsite, lagoon and holiday bungalow area tested positive for asbestos.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral which was commonly used as a construction material in the past. The use of asbestos in building materials has been banned in Singapore since 1989 due to concerns about health risks.




Senior consultant of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine at the Singapore General Hospital, Professor Loo Chian Min, said the health risk was low for casual visitors to the island.

"We shouldn’t expect any health issues for visitors. I wouldn’t be particularly concerned," said Prof Loo.

“For someone who is occupationally exposed for a long time, they can develop a few things, such as asbestosis, where the lungs get scarred, which leads to breathlessness,” he said.

"The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma, which is the cancer of the lining of the lungs and the heart, are the main health risks.”

CAMPSITE TO REOPEN MID-2019

SLA said that removal works will start this Friday and will be completed by the end of the year. It aims to reopen the campsite by mid-2019.

Meanwhile, the authority has cancelled all bookings for the island’s facilities. Fewer than a dozen bookings have been affected, it said.

SLA chief executive Tan Boon Khai said it had yet to determine the source of the debris which tested positive for asbestos.

"It could have been there for some time, but we are investigating the matter," he said.

Regarding the two residents who grew up and live on St John’s Island, Mr Tan said they were in good health and have moved to the mainland after being informed of the asbestos.

SLA said it will continue to follow up with the two residents, and they will be allowed to return to their homes when the cordoned area is deemed safe.

The authority, which took over the management of the island from the Sentosa Development Corp in March last year, had been carrying out maintenance and upgrading works to enhance the existing facilities.

It was during the works that SLA's contractors discovered the debris, and extracted samples around the campsite, lagoon and holiday bungalow area for further asbestos testing on Mar 19.

Last Monday, the asbestos surveyor appointed by SLA confirmed the presence of asbestos in the samples. It was not detected on the rest of the island, which houses a Marine Aquaculture Centre.

The regular scheduled ferry timings to St John’s Island will continue to be available throughout the removal works. Visitors will still be able to cross the linkway which connects St John’s Island to Lazarus Island.

Source: CNA/nc


St John’s Island campsite to be closed till mid-2019 for removal of asbestos: SLA
LOUISA TANG Today Online 23 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE — The recreational areas of St John’s Island will be closed till the middle of next year, after asbestos — a hazardous material that could cause lung cancer and other illnesses if its fibres are inhaled over a prolonged period — was discovered on the island.

Announcing the closure on Monday (April 23), the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said for safety reasons, the public will not be allowed into the campsite, lagoon and bungalow areas on the Southern island located some 6.5km to the south of the mainland.

About a dozen bookings for the campsite have been cancelled, and the monthly-guided nature trail — run by the National Parks Board — has also been cancelled till the site is re-opened.

The public can, however, continue to access Lazarus Island via St John’s Island, and ferry services from Marina South will not be affected.

The other half of the island that houses research facilities, such as the St John’s Island National Marine Laboratory, will also remain open.

Taking the media through the sequence of events, the SLA said its contractors, who were carrying out upgrading and maintenance works on the campsite, had discovered traces of asbestos in debris — which may have come from the roof sheets — on March 19.

The agency then worked with its surveyor to test the debris, and confirmed the presence of asbestos on April 16.

On April 17, it cancelled all campsite and holiday bungalow bookings on the island, and on April 18, two long-term residents of the island, who grew up there, were notified and they have since relocated to their homes on the mainland.

At the media briefing, SLA chief executive Tan Boon Khai said: “We have been in touch with them and we understand that they are in good health."

The SLA will begin removing the asbestos from Friday (April 27), and removal works are expected to be completed at the end of the year. The campsite will be reopened in mid-2019 once upgrading and maintenance works are completed.

The use of asbestos — a naturally-occurring mineral — in building materials has been banned since 1989 due to concerns about their health risks. Mr Tan told reporters that the agency is investigating the source of the asbestos and will not speculate further, though they “most likely” came from roof sheets.

“From the debris that is there, it could have been there for some time, but we are investigating the matter,” he added.

The SLA, which took over the management of the island from Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC)last year, does not actively track the number of visitors to the island, though in 2014, SDC had reported that the island receives some 28,000 visitors annually.

Casual visitors to the island need not be particularly concerned about their health, said Associate Professor Loo Chian Min, senior consultant at the Singapore General Hospital’s respiratory and critical care medicine department.

This is because asbestos poses a risk only to those who inhale its fibres over a long period of between 10 and 40 years, affecting mostly people who work with prolonged exposure to high levels of it. Asbestos fibres can cause diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.

In 2016, some of the terrace houses at Chip Bee Gardens near Holland Village were found to contain asbestos. The SLA is still replacing all affected roof awnings and clearing the asbestos “over time”. “That is quite a different situation because that was contained and untouched in a house environment,” Mr Tan said.


Risk to St John's Island visitors low, says expert
Asbestos-linked diseases affect mainly those with long exposure to high levels of substance
Audrey Tan Straits Times 24 Apr 18;

Debris containing a potentially toxic mineral was recently found on St John's Island, leading the authorities to seal off more than half of the island as a safety precaution.

Traces of asbestos were detected on April 16 in construction debris such as roof tiles around the island's campsite, lagoon and holiday bungalow area, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said at a media briefing yesterday .

Even though the risk of visitors developing asbestos-related diseases is low due to short-term exposure to the mineral, SLA said it took the precaution of cordoning off the affected areas the following day. SLA, which manages the island, also closed off the campsite and cancelled about a dozen bookings for the holiday bungalow.

The two long-term residents on St John's Island, whose homes are within the affected areas, moved to the mainland last Wednesday. SLA said they were found to be in good health.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was once a popular component in construction materials.

Due to its links to health problems such as lung cancer, its use in buildings was banned in Singapore in 1989, but many earlier structures still contain the substance.

Structures containing asbestos pose no risk to humans if they are intact. However, when there is damage or disturbance - such as sawing and cutting - fibres may be released into the air and inhaled.

In this case, the asbestos was found in construction debris such as roof tiles. SLA is investigating how the debris came to the island.

REASSURANCE

For asbestos to cause any illness, it would need 10 to 40 years before anything can happen.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR LOO CHIAN MIN, a senior consultant for respiratory and critical care medicine at Singapore General Hospital, saying casual visitors to St John's Island should not be unduly worried.

Asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer or asbestosis - the progressive scarring of the lungs - occur mainly in people who have continuous years of exposure to high levels of asbestos, said Associate Professor Loo Chian Min.

The senior consultant for respiratory and critical care medicine at the Singapore General Hospital said casual visitors to St John's Island should not be unduly worried.

However, for the two long-term islanders, Prof Loo said: "I would advise them to go for a baseline health check.

"For asbestos to cause any illness, it would need 10 to 40 years before anything can happen. So a baseline would help to ascertain their health condition now, so there can be a comparison if anything should happen later."

Dr Jim Teo, a respiratory physician at Parkway East Hospital, said the time and dosage of exposure could increase the risk of lung complications. While short-term exposure to high concentrations of asbestos in an enclosed space may be potentially harmful, it could also take years to show, he added.

"Nowadays, exposure to asbestos is decreased... But asbestos was widely used decades ago and, as a result, we encounter cases only now," Dr Teo told The Straits Times.

He said a detailed history of the patients' occupation and the materials they handled at work provide important clues to their past exposure to the toxic mineral.

At yesterday's briefing, SLA said the affected areas will likely reopen only in the middle of next year, after asbestos removal and other construction works are completed.

CEO of SLA Tan Boon Khai on asbestos found on St John's Island

But visitors can still make the trip to the neighbouring Lazarus Island, which is connected to St John's Island by a bridge. The ferries from Marina South Pier to the island will also continue plying the route.

Staff working at the two research facilities on the island - the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's aquaculture facility and the St John's Island National Marine Laboratory - can also continue to go to work, but will have to reach their laboratories via alternative routes.

Even though official figures show that at least 200 asbestos-removal cases take place every year, the asbestos found on St John's Island is only the second prominent case.

The first was in 2016, when SLA found that the corrugated roof sheets of terraced houses in Chip Bee Gardens had asbestos in some of them. In an update yesterday, SLA chief executive Tan Boon Khai said replacement works at Chip Bee are still ongoing.

Ms Ria Tan, who documents the creatures found in Singapore's nature areas, including the lagoons on St John's Island, said the incident raised a few questions, including how the asbestos debris landed on the island.

Ms Tan, who writes on the wildsingapore.com blog, said: "Going forward, how will the authorities ensure future proper disposal of general trash and industrial and construction waste?"

Heritage blogger Jerome Lim said he is concerned that asbestos may be undetected in other areas.

"In this case, the risk seems low due to the short-term exposure of users to the affected facilities on the island, but it may not be the case in other instances."

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