HARTLEPOOL, UK – Environmental activists in England are vigorously protesting the imminent arrival of the asbestos-contaminated, French aircraft carrier, Clemenceau, which is scheduled to be dismantled at the Northern England shipyard at Hartlepool. Environmentalists point to the fact that the French ship, now known simply as Hull Q790, was turned away by India in 2006 due to outside environmental group concerns for the safety of Indian ship breakers whose work would have exposed them to significant levels of asbestos-a known cancer-causing substance. Those who object to the ship’s deconstruction in the British port want to know why the health of UK workers seems to be of little or no concern.
Hull Q790 is currently docked in France at the port in Brest, where it awaits calm seas for its trip to Great Britain, but the environmental organization, Friends of Hartlepool, are promising anything but smooth sailing when it comes to the ship’s dismantling in their town. The group points out that the Clemenceau contains over 700 metric tons of asbestos contaminated material, a statistic that could spell a long-term health disaster for Hartlepool residents.
Jean Kennedy, a 70 year old member of the “Friends” organization stated, “We don’t want the Clemenceau. We already have a lot of polluting industries for a town this size.” Kennedy went on to point out that Hartlepool, “already has the highest cancer and asbestosis rate in the country, and an average life expectancy 13 years lower than the national average.”
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was once widely used by countless industries to manufacture a wide variety of products. In the 1970s it was discovered that exposures to airborne asbestos fibers could lead to serious respiratory diseases such as asbestosis, as well as the far more dreaded killer, malignant pleural mesothelioma-a highly aggressive and incurable form of lung cancer. Asbestos exposure has also been linked to pancreatic cancer, and no safe level of exposure to the carcinogen has ever been established. Asbestos has been banned by many countries around the world, though, as in the case of the French aircraft carrier, the hazardous material remains ubiquitous in the environment.
While the “Friends” of Hartlepool has yet to win any type of legal ruling that would prevent the Clemenceau from entering the port, the group has managed to collect over 15,000 signatures on a petition it will attempt to employ against Able UK, the British ship breaker that won the contract for the ship’s deconstruction.
Able UK’s CEO, Peter Stephenson, claims the town’s fears amount to much ado about nothing. “Since 1985, we have been dismantling oil and gas platforms that have the same type of waste as these ships,” said Stephenson, who went on to say, “We’ve been doing it without a single complaint from anybody in all those years.”
The Friends of Hartlepool vow to fight on. “We don’t want to be the final destination of the toxic ships coming from all over the world,” said Kennedy. “The whole Russian fleet is waiting to come.” Despite the petition, concerned Hartlepool residents are finding little support among other environmental groups. Oddly enough, Greenpeace, one of the world’s leading environmental organizations has cheered the eventual arrival of Hull Q790 in Great Britain.
Greenpeace was among one of several groups that was successful in blocking the aircraft carrier’s dismantling in India, where worker safety is a low priority. Greenpeace states it would much prefer ships such as the Clemenceau to be dismantled in Western countries where more stringent worker safety laws will make the ship breaking less hazardous to human health.