HUNDREDS of people are being urgently moved out of one of Oxford University’s biggest buildings after asbestos was discovered.

Large quantities of the dangerous substance – which can cause cancer if inhaled – have been found in parts of the Tinbergen Building, in South Parks Road, during refurbishment works.

It is home to the world-leading departments of zoology and experimental psychology, including some 750 staff and 900 students.

This afternoon, the university stressed there was no evidence to suggest people in the building had been exposed to health risks.

But the discovery means they must all be relocated immediately, with other departments and colleges expected to make room.

The surprise announcement has thrown a host of major research projects, planned lectures and events into disarray.

Professor William James, pro-vice chancellor for planning and resources, said staff safety was the university’s priority but confirmed the Tinbergen Building’s future was now uncertain.

He said no options – including demolition – were being ruled out to deal with the asbestos.

Prof James added: “Asbestos is common in all buildings of this vintage and we have always known it has been in this building.

“For decades, the university has taken steps to either remove it where it is safe to do so or isolate it.

"What has changed is several pieces of work going on – necessary work, refurbishments and work on our heating systems – have brought to light pieces of asbestos inside things like ducts that need to be safely removed.

“Over the past year the number of pieces that have come to light have increased to the point where we are no longer confident that removal can be done if users remain.

“So we have concluded, with a heavy heart, that do it most quickly will require a wholesale closure of the Tinbergen Building.
“We believe there is no health risk to the regular users of the building and have been monitoring the situation carefully.

"Everything we are doing right now is to ensure that continues to be the case.”

Prof James said the exact period of time the building would remain closed was not yet known, but it was likely to be ‘in the region of’ two years.

He said colleges and other university departments had already offered support, with many giving displaced colleagues space, and thanked them for their ‘sacrifices’.

Space has been found for lectures and planned tutorials for students but accommodation for research has not yet been finalised. “But we are confident we can handle this”, Prof James added

University academics and researchers on social media expressed their shock and frustration at being moved, with some also showing a bit of levity.

One researcher wrote on Twitter: "We just found out our Dept building is shut down for 2 years from monday. So we drank all the champagne."