Asbestos alert in Winter Moods music video

Danger in Mriehel factory since 2008 but no warning signs or protective barriers ever erected to ward off trespassers: now actors and directors could have been exposed to asbestos inhalation

Winter Moods' recent single could prove to be a hit in more ways, after revelations that its music video was filmed in a factory contaminated with asbestos.
Winter Moods' recent single could prove to be a hit in more ways, after revelations that its music video was filmed in a factory contaminated with asbestos.

Winter Moods’ recent single ‘Everlasting’ could prove to be a hit in more ways than one, after revelations that its music video was filmed in a derelict factory contaminated with asbestos.

The video, directed by James Vernon, took place in the condemned Mriehel factory that formerly housed Dowty O Rings; littered with asbestos panels, no warning signs were ever placed in the factory to warn trespassers of the dangers of contamination.

Featuring two couples, young and old, running all over the factory floor, it is no wonder that an industrial chemical expert contacted by MaltaToday has expressed concern about what took place during the video shoot.

“Looking at the video, it’s clear that the building was littered with asbestos and it’s crazy that the actors were simply dancing and running on it,” the industrial chemist, who preferred to remain anonymous, told MaltaToday.

“They were wearing no protection and it’s highly probable that they inhaled asbestos fibres. It probably got stuck to their clothes and their shoes too – asbestos spreads very easily.”

The asbestos mineral was commonly used in the manufacturing industry for its resilience to damage by heat, electricity and chemicals. In the 1970s, it was discovered to be highly carcinogenic and was widely banned.

“The asbestos in that building was amosite, one of the most toxic forms of asbestos,” the industrial chemist said. “The worst-case scenario for the two actors is that they will end up developing lung cancer in around 20 years’ time. Asbestos symptoms often take that long to develop.”

The music video, produced by MaltaFilm, was shot early last summer in the abandoned factory in Mriehel, now the property of the Malta Industrial Parks, a subsidiary of Malta Enterprise. In 2008, the roof collapsed, littering the ground with planks of asbestos.

“There was no special reason why we chose this factory,” MaltaFilm executive producer Joshua Cassar-Gaspar said. “It was an abandoned factory, easily accessible to all, with no apertures and completely exposed to the elements.

“We were not aware that there was asbestos in the building. There were no warning signs and other people were walking through it while we were filming.”

James Vernon, director of the Winter Moods music video, actually returned to the film set a few months later to direct the promotional video for this year’s Samsara New Year’s Eve party. 

“In both cases, there was no ill intention,” Vernon said. “We didn’t break open any doors to get inside, and we did not see any signs on the abandoned and exposed building. In fact, the police arrived during the Winter Moods shoot to see what we were doing. We explained that we were taking some shots for a music video and they gave us the go-ahead to continue.”

Deborah Grech, manager for Winter Moods and wife of frontman Ivan Grech, told MaltaToday that the band had no say in the choice of the site for the filming, which did not involve the band. The band was filmed for other scenes in another location.

A collapsed roof and a collapsed tender

MIP had been alerted to the situation by an OHSA official back in 2008, and all apertures had to be sealed to prevent fibres being blown away by the wind. The Malta Industrial Parks’ former deputy chairman, Christopher Paris, explained that MIP had released a tender for the removal of the asbestos.

However, the tender process was halted in 2010 after security system company Alberta protested that the winning bidder did not have the necessary insurance policies to cover the removal of the asbestos.

An internal inquiry was launched, a technical error was discovered and the tender process was cancelled. The tender was re-released earlier this year and was awarded to PT Matic, a subsidiary company of Alberta, on 7 October 2014. The bulk of the asbestos has now been removed, packaged in jumbo bags and shipped out to contractors in Spain.

Trespassing charges a real possibility

Had the Malta Industrial Parks provided the film crew with permission to film in that building, it could have given rise to some very thorny questions. As it stands though, the film crew could face trespassing charges.

“We are taking a very serious stance here,” MIP chairman Tony Zahra said. “There are laws defending private property.”

Both Cassar-Gaspar and Vernon said that they were completely unaware that the building belonged to the MIP. However, it appears that Zahra is having none of it.

“I personally don’t think it’s a valid argument and they’ll have to convince the judge,” he said. “If they had wanted to film on that land, they could have asked us. You can’t just film on private property without permission in a civilised country.”