THE council has revealed it has known about asbestos in the town hall since the 1980s - but promised it will back up many of the documents it will have to destroy as a result.

It emerged this month that piles of paperwork in the basement of the building, in Forest Road, Walthamstow, could be shredded amid fears they may have been contaminated with the toxic fibre.

After nearly a week the council has finally responded to the Guardian's questions about the issue and pledged that "important" documents will be copied.

But it has admitted that the asbestos, which is believed to be of the type with a low risk to humans, has long been known about, raising questions why the area was used to store such paperwork in the first place.

Campaigners such as community worker Nick Tiratsoo have been trying since January to obtain copies of candidates' 2010 election expenses after concerns were raised that many councillors had not properly filled out their declaration of interest forms.

They were given a variety of explanations why the council could not hand them over, before the asbestos revelation this month.

A council spokesman said: "We have been aware of the asbestos since the 1980s, hence our moving staff out of the area before [maintenance] work even began.

"Staff are at extremely low risk of exposure as testing confirmed levels were well within Health and Safety Executive guidelines.

"The safety and wellbeing of our employees is paramount, and staff have been given full health and safety advice and advised to visit their GP if they have any further concerns.

"Any important (e.g. legal or financial) documents that do not exist electronically will be sealed and securely stored until we can put measures in place to back them up."

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