THE ABANDONED FACTORY IN BELGIUM
‘Johns-Manville Balmatt’ produced asbestos cement to make roofing and other products. Balmatt started as a family business when six local families opened ‘N.V. Beton en Mollith’ in 1923. The company moved to a new factory building in Mol, near the Bocholt-Herentals canal. Another site opened in Gent in 1962.
The American asbestos group Johns-Manville invested in the company in 1928. The new company prospered after the Second World War with 150 to 200 workers employed in 1953. Employment size rose up to 520 during the 1960s, with the large majority working in Mol. The company was sold to a number of board members and employees in 1983 after financial difficulties at the American company headquarters. At this time, it was gradually dawning that asbestos exposure entails serious health risks and European legislation began implementing regulations on asbestos use. Balmatt in Mol employed approximately 370 people in 1988.
The company had stopped manufacturing asbestos products six months before the bankruptcy in July 1998. At the time, the factory in Mol provided jobs to 187 manual workers and 48 administrative employees. Approximately 30 workers from the site in Gent lost their jobs. After the bankruptcy in 1998 the site got abandoned. Due to the rules and laws about asbestos the factory wasn’t cleaned. Before the machines could be dismantled, the factory needed to be asbestos free, you understand why many years nothing happened.
This made ‘Johns-Manville Balmatt’ an interesting factory one to explore. All the machinery were still present, the last manufactured corrugated asbestos roof is still lying there, ready for transport. The cleaning of the site started in the summer of 2006. The costs… almost 10 million euros! I visited the site in 2006. The buildings were demolished in 2007.