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IN THE CANDID CORNER: Heritage over health?

Matthew Farley

IN THE CANDID CORNER: Heritage over health?

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The shocking truth behind asbestos is that its inhalation is the root cause of 90 diseases and it has been banned in many countries. –  
Recent developments surrounding the issue of broken asbestos on the roof of the listed building located just off the compound of the Garrison Secondary School are quite instructive.
On the one hand, the unions representing both the teaching and ancillary staff are concerned about exposure to asbestos whose fibres they suspect have compromised the air quality in their workplace.
On the other, the heritage advocates are challenging the basis of the fears as unfounded and insist that there is absolutely no hazard or risk in relation to that building.
Many years ago this building used to be occupied by a number of organizations, including UNESCO/CARNEID. In earlier times, I am told, it was part of residential facilities for officers of the militia that occupied the Garrison. Since that agency moved out, the building has fallen into disrepair and has become dilapidated and is now occupied by vermin and rodents.
Located just outside of a secondary school, it serves as a thoroughfare for miscreants and provides a “block” for the unemployed to loiter and engage in nefarious activity. A number of criminal acts are known to have taken place in that area.
The grounds around the building are often used as parking-out spots for lovers, prostitutes and other nocturnal trespassers in search of pleasure. In spite of the fact that the area immediately around the building is “sheeted” with used condoms and is often used as a bowel-emptying location, it is where vendors do a ripping trade to students before and after school.
This is the context in which one of the many listed buildings in the Garrison historic area is located. It is the history that lies within its walls, its architecture, that Professor Henry Fraser and his associates wish to preserve as part of our heritage. Should UNESCO accept the proposal to establish the Garrison historic area as a heritage site, there are elaborate plans in the pipelines that would see the area developed as a bourgeoning location for heritage tourism: the visitors’ industry.
The workers at the nearby secondary school have been given a bad public [image] in relation to the stance taken on the issue. While there has not been industrial action to date, the teachers in particular have been accused of being irresponsible and, as one caller to Down To Brass Tacks is reported to have said, “ . . . the teachers only want to remain at home”!
The fact is that at a time when health and safety legislation is at an advanced stage in Barbados, there are many, it seems, who would want employees to put heritage over their health.  
History is replete with situations in which issues of health have been pitted against other human concerns. In north-east Pennsylvania, Denise Dennis’ ancestors were among the first farmers who settled there in 1793. The oil-rich land they farmed could make them “filthy rich”. The family was faced with two challenges: how to preserve the beautiful historical place they loved without allowing others to destroy its landscape; how to best protect and preserve their farm and its history in the midst of the drilling around (
There are many like him who are caught under the “heritage hachet”.
Thousands of visitors travel the world over because of heritage. Heritage tourism forms an important component of international tourism. People travel to experience someone else’s landscape, their architecture, their heritage, their way of life. Research has found that visitors who participate in heritage tourism spend more per visit and typically stay longer. (
In 2002, 81 per cent of United States adults included at least one cultural act, historic or heritage activity totalling 118.1 million adult travellers. In Pennsylvania cultural and heritage tourism generates $3.5 billion and provides 80 000 jobs ( In this regard, the Garrison historic area has tremendous potential.
The recent visit by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Youth and Culture endorsed the intention of the Garrison historic committee to tap this area as a boost to tourism. All of us stand to benefit.
But all of this could be achieved without adopting a callousness to the concerns of workers for their own health and that of their charges. All of this could be achieved without the proponents of heritage agenda flying in the face of the well established intelligence relative to the dangers associated with asbestos inhalation.
Professor Fraser is right. Asbestos is totally without hazard. Yes, professor, asbestos is perfectly safe – until it is broken. The asbestos roof on the listed building about 200 metres east of the headquarters of the Caribbean Examinations Council has been broken and disturbed since October 2010.
In conclusion, we can do all we can to preserve our heritage in all its dimensions, but if our health in compromised at its expense, it is worth nothing more than “a mess of pottage”.

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