Tests confirm presence of asbestos debris on Carmarthenshire beach
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Material unearthed by coastal erosion in Burry Port contains asbestos, Carmarthenshire Council has confirmed.
The authority arranged tests to be carried out after concerns were raised that children were decorating sandcastles with the material on a stretch of beach east of Burry Port Harbour.
It is believed that the grey, corrugated pieces of debris are remnants from the vast Carmarthen Bay Power Station, which occupied land behind the beach before it was demolished in the 1990s.
The south-facing beach has enviable views across the Loughor Estuary to Gower but is strewn with brick rubble, rusting metal rods and broken concrete pipes from the power plant.
The council put up signs in the area earlier this month warning people that material which may contain asbestos had been found.
Following the tests, Cllr Philip Hughes, executive board member for public protection, said this week: “A small amount of material has been identified as containing low level asbestos which is of low risk to the public and we are taking all necessary steps as a precaution including the safe removal of any visible material.
“This is an ongoing situation which will be continually re-assessed.
“Some remains of the power station that was located here and was demolished in the 1990s are being uncovered by coastal erosion – similar situations have occurred at other coastal locations across the UK where there is history of similar industry near the coast.
“We are working closely with Public Health Wales and Natural Resources Wales on this matter and are in regular contact with Pembrey and Burry Port Town Council.”
Cllr Hughes added: “Although the material is of low risk, we do advise that if anyone spots anything of this nature on this small stretch of the beach not to pick it up.”
Asbestos minerals were widely used in construction due to their heat resistance and strength, but are now banned.
Public Health Wales said damaged asbestos can release fibres which, if breathed in for long periods of time and in high concentrations, can result in heart problems, breathing difficulties and lead to lung cancer.
Low levels of exposure over a long period of time, it added, can also damage health. There are strict rules about how asbestos and materials containing it must be disposed.
Council leader Emlyn Dole will meet with Burry Port councillor John James later this month to discuss the situation.
Cllr James welcomed the meeting, and said several concerned residents had been in touch with him about the issue.
He added that asbestos found on a beach in Plymouth had resulted in its temporary closure.
Cllr James said he felt the Burry Port section of coastline should be reassessed regarding the suitability for building applications passed years ago, given what he described as its vulnerability.
The council has big plans to regenerate the Burry Port Harbour area, including a scheme in partnership with a private developer for potentially 360 homes on land between the former power station and the harbour.
Cllr James said his intention was not to halt this development but make sure it was safe.
“Health and people come before profit and peril, whether it’s this generation’s or the ones to come,” he said.
Pembrey and Burry Port town councillor and mayor Michael Theodoulou said the community council was also concerned about the situation.
He said separate tests of the debris which were funded by local residents had found different types of asbestos.
“They indicate it’s more than a bit a little bit of asbestos,” said Mr Theodoulou.
He added that the “substantial” erosion was exposing overflow pipes from the power station, which he claimed led to a chamber area below where larger large quantities of asbestos may be buried.
Mr Theodoulou said the contrast of the beach’s wonderful location with the debris cluttering it up was “one of the saddest you will find”.