"Over the Edge" bike ride from Rochdale to Hebden Bridge and back Remembering "lost souls"
Why might you see someone riding a bike wearing a white protective suit and mask?..
Because there is a link between Rochdale, the Hebden Bridge area and heart disease... ASBESTOS.
Two towns united in sorrow
Many people from both towns have been affected by asbestos related disease. The Cape Asbestos Acre Mill factory operated at Old Town above Hebden Bridge from 1939-1970. The Turner & Newall (T&N) factory processed asbestos in the Spodden Valley of Rochdale from the 1870s to the late 1990s.
Countless people have died as a result of exposure to the asbestos products once made on both sides of the Pennines.
Exposure to asbestos can cause several diseases including lung cancer and mesothelioma - a terminal cancer of the lining of the lung or stomach. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) conclude there is no minimum threshold to asbestos
Heart disease and Asbestosis
Heavy exposure to the dusty fibre often caused "asbestosis" a clogging up of the lungs. This often put huge strain on vital organs- including the heart.In the 1970s many of those diagnosed by company doctors with asbestosis died young, but following an official post mortem, the cause of death was often described as heart disease, with no mention of their asbestos exposure.
Studies by historians of asbestos company archives have unearthed a chilling name for such deaths... "lost souls".
Archived Cape and T&N documents suggest a shocking story - perhaps a cover up where H.M Coroners didn't receive all relevant information about former asbestos workers who died of "heart attacks"..
So although asbestos disease is usually associated with lung disease, getting involved in the British Heart Foundation bike ride event is an opportunity to raise awareness of the terrible legacy that both Rochdale and Hebden Bridge shares and remember those "lost souls".
Why is asbestos relevant today?
The diseases caused by exposure to asbestos take decades to show themselves (10-50+ years). The HSE estimate that in the UK over 3500 people die each year from asbestos related disease. This trend is still rising.
A growing number of people appear to be suffering from asbestos cancers as a result of environmental exposure.
A Tale of Two Towns
Hebden Bridge: planting trees...
There is a stark contrast in the way that Rochdale and Hebden Bridge seem to be dealing with the contaminated legacy of their asbestos factory sites.
At Old Town above Hebden Bridge, the Acre Mill factory site has been demolished and grassed over. The site rests in peace.
At Pecket Well, one of the main dump sites for Cape Asbestos, Calderdale Council has invested in making the area permanently safe with landscaping, substantial ground capping and the planting of trees to stabilise the soil. This is perhaps a poignant, green memorial to those who have fallen to industrial disease.
Rochdale: destroying woodland...
In May 2004, at dawn on a Saturday morning, the town awoke to the sound of chainsaws. Property speculators had bought the entire 72 acre Spodden Valley asbestos factory site. That weekend over 3 acres of mature woodlands were destroyed. It emerged there were plans create an "urban village" of over 600 homes and a children's nursery on the site of what was the world's largest asbestos factory.
An incredulous local community branded the plans a "sick joke".
The developers claimed they had conducted tests and concluded:
"of particular note is the absence of any asbestos contamination".
3 years of campaigning plus investigations by the BBC and national media have proved otherwise.
An independent report concluded the potential for extensive contamination.
The main concerns for asbestos contamination come from three sources:
The controversial planning application remains firmly on HOLD.
But the struggle continues to ensure that the entire site is made permanently safe. One further asbestos cancer death from this site is one too many.
"Save Spodden Valley"
Is a local, non-political, community campaign.
Please keep the people of Rochdale safe from irresponsible development.
To find out more:
For information about the legacy of Acre Mill see Hebden Bridge website - features - The legacy of Acre Mill AcreForum of Asbestos Victim Support Groups There are a number of charitable support groups for anyone who needs help or information about asbestos related disease. Telephone 0161 636 7555 for details of your nearest group, or visit: ActionMeso.info