Singapore

Traces of asbestos found in construction debris on St John’s Island

Half of island cordoned off, campsite closed after traces of asbestos are found

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 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.

Due to asbestos' 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.

But when there is damage or disturbance - such as sawing and cutting - fibres may be released into the air and inhaled.

Traces of asbestos found in construction debris on St John’s Island
Debris containing asbestos. PHOTOS: SLA

In this case, the asbestos was found in construction debris such as roof tiles.

SLA is investigating how the debris came to the island.

HEALTH CHECK

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.

But 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."

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.

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.

Environment