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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

'Asbestos' and the twisted tale of 'Clemenceau"

I ventured into blogging in Sept. 2009 – prior to that I used to circulate my writings to group of friends through e mail  Here is something so circulated  to my group on 21/06/2006  - some additions have since been made to this post.  This has a lot to do  with building construction and some connection with a French statesman.

AC sheets are commonly found in many houses and mostly in factories as roofing.  Here is some interesting info on AC sheets.  Asbestos Cement Sheeting is also known as AC sheeting.  This is a very common building material, though there has always been health related concerns on its usage.  Until about 1980, asbestos was widely used in building materials to give strength, increase heat insulation, and provide fire resistance. The usage stands banned in some countries.

This is what you commonly see:

and this is how it looks on buildings 

~ do you wonder what this photo has to do here.... !!!!

Asbestos describes any of a group of fibrous metamorphic minerals of the hydrous magnesium silicate variety. The name is derived for its historical use in lamp wicks; the resistance of asbestos to fire has long been exploited for a variety of purposes. Asbestos was used in fabrics such as Egyptian burial cloths and Charlemagne's tablecloth which according to legend, he threw in a fire to clean. Asbestos occurs naturally in many forms (see below); it is mined from metamorphic rocks.   When asbestos is used for its resistance to fire or heat, the fibers are often mixed with cement or woven into fabric or mats. Asbestos is used in brake shoes and gaskets for its heat resistance, and in the past was used on electric oven and hotplate wiring for its electrical insulation at elevated temperature, and in buildings for its flame-retardant and insulating properties, tensile strength, flexibility, and resistance to chemicals.

Asbestos and cement were first combined in the United States in the early 1900s to form an innovative new building material. Asbestos-cement products were used in a host of applications, which took advantage of its durability, fire resistance, ease in processing, forming, installing, and overall economic benefits. Asbestos’ popularity in the building industry stemmed from its inexpensive processing and its special chemical and physical properties, which make it virtually indestructible.

Asbestos Cement is primarily a cement-based product where about 10% to 15% w/w asbestos fibres are added to reinforce the cement. Asbestos cement is weatherproof in that although it will absorb moisture, the water does not pass through the product.  It was used for corrugated sheets, slates, flat sheets for animal pens, claddings, moulded fittings, soffits and undercloak, water cisterns, rainwater gutters, down pipes, pressure pipes, underground drainage and sewer pipes, sills, copings, chalkboards, fascias, infill panels, etc.
AC sheets are largely used for fire proofing. Fireproofing, a passive fire protection measure, subject to bounding, refers to the act of making materials or structures more resistant to fire, or to those materials themselves.

It is widely feared that the inhalation of some kinds of asbestos fibers causes various serious illnesses, including cancer. Thus, most uses of asbestos are banned in many countries. Fiberglass has been found to be a suitable substitute for thermal insulation, and woven ceramic fiber performs as well as or better than asbestos as an insulator of high-temperature electrical conductors.   The asbestos fibres, if inhaled, can be deadly, causing cancers and mesothelioma.



Incidentally,  the starting of the year 2006  saw controversy of  a French aircraft carrier headed for India on its funeral voyage.  If you do not remember, here are some facts on it:

Alang is a port in Bhavnagar District of Gujarat known world over for ship breaking activities.  In case you are enthused to read more about ship breaking click   here : Ship breaking

The ship yards of Alang recycle hundreds of ships providing job opportunities to thousands but considered to be a very hazardous industry.   Ships sail on sea for some years and later they are withdrawn and then dumped to yards for breaking – recovery of scrap steel out of once lively transport carriers.

Georges Benjamin Clemenceau[ (1841 – 1929) was a statesman who served as Prime Minsiter of France from 1906 to 1909 & 1917 – 1920.  He was one fo the major voices behind the Treaty of Versailles – no wonder a naval air carrier was named after him. Clemenceau is often credited for the phrase "War is too important to be left to the generals”.

The French aircraft carrier  Clemenceau,  had a displacement of 24200 tons with L 265 M; Beam 51.20 M and could sail speeds of 32 knots with full compliment of close to 2000 crew.

Conceived after the WW II,  Clemenceau was launched in December 1957, entered in service in November 1961 and carried out its first sortie at sea in 1963.  At the time of its entry there were only two air craft carriers in France – saw action in the Lebanese civil war of the 1980s and the first Gulf war of 1991.    once the crown jewel of naval prowess, the ship was decommissioned in 1997 and thence  officially and unromantically known as "Hull Q790."

It had a major fire accident in July 1991 and carried out her last exit with the sea in July 1997.  She was subsequently sold for scrap on June 2003.   Then she was in news as containing toxic waste – reportedly carrying over 250 tonnes of asbestos.  The use and manufacture of asbestos had been banned in several European countries including France.   Following evidence that part of the removal of asbestos would not proceed, as stipulated by the sales contract, in the Spanish port of Gijon, the contract was rescinded and declared void in late October 2003.  More trouble was to follow as in Dec 2005, Greenpeace activists boarded the decommissioned Clemenceau at Toulon to protest plans to send the ship to scrap at Alang, India, despite the presence of residual asbestos. The ship had been partially cleared of asbestos and the decontamination firm claimed that the ship’s structure would be unacceptably weakened if further removal took place. Greenpeace and other environmental groups argued it carried far more asbestos than the 45 tons French officials first reported.

Clemenceau steamed out of the port of Toulon and was the object of simmering dispute.    It was stopped at Port Said for Egyptian authorisation to pass through the Suez canal and then sailed to Alang. There were widespread protests in India and made subject matter of  Indian Apex Court which in Jan 2006 ruled that information about the vessel was inadequate and directed that the vessel stay at least 200 NM off the shore of India until more information is made available.  There were growing concerns from Environmental activists, including those from Greenpeace India and the Ban Asbestos Forum  that India was  seen as a convenient dumping ground, thanks to weak laws concerning hazardous waste.   Subsequently it was denied entry into Indian Port and had to return. After months of uncertainty French President Jacques Chirac ordered the ship returned home.  This time it had to take a circuitous route via the Cape of Goodhope.

Clemenceau returned  and docked back at the same berth in the Brest port that it had occupied in 1961, when it began its 36 years of service with the navy.

The Clemenceau returned to France, and it was unclear just where it will finally be dismantled.  It laid ignominiously at Brest for two more years and then Able UK got the contract to dismantle her at its TERRC (Teesside Environmental Reclamation & Recycling Centre) facility at Graythorpe, Hartlepool. Special dispensation was given to Able by the UK HSE to handle the asbestos content of the carrier which would normally have been prohibited by its Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. The vessel was moved to Able UK after this was authorised by court proceedings and Clemenceau arrived at Graythorp in Feb 2009.

The dismantling of the ship started in Nov 2009 and was expected to be completed by end 2010.  On the 5 February 2010,  a fire on board was reported.  Up to 50 firefighters tackled the fire – there reportedly were no injuries and could be contained.

Able UK  had claimed that this project was one of the largest of its kind in Europe.  In some ways she stormed everything from glory to ignominy and the controversies surrounding her are still to be put to total rest.

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.


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