A recent BBC 1 edition of the consumer programmer, “Watchdog” included a ‘rogue trader’ feature on a Southampton waste disposal firm, notorious for illegal flytipping activities, and who operate without any statutory licensing. It showed quite clearly that a section of waste debris was asbestos cement roof sheeting produced from chrysotile (white asbestos).

It was hardly surprising that the firm’s owner driver showed no indication of asbestos awareness to the immediate health risk or the proper and legal procedures for its’ safe disposal. Consequently, the entire waste material was quickly loaded without any further thought to asbestos containment or protective clothing, driven away and dumped nearby in a local churchyard.

Asbestos was widely used in building materials mixed with cement or plaster as recently as the 1970s/80s and there are still many premises in existence containing chrysotile type asbestos. Once identified, there is a mandatory procedure for the highly dangerous operation of controlled asbestos removal and disposal, which involves the requisite containment by careful bagging and dust suppression.

Throughout the 20th century, asbestos was responsible for eventually leading to fatal asbestos diseases, most notably, asbestosis and mesothelioma amongst many of the UK’s industrial workforce. A single incident of exposure is still high risk with a long incubation period of up to 50 years before first asbestosis symptoms appear, confirmed diagnosis and a mesothelioma claim can commence.

Today, not only is there a copious amount of information easily available relating to the deadly dangers of asbestos and it’s long history as a toxic mineral, but most importantly, key legislation has been put into place to ensure that workplace training fully informs company employers and their staff on the correct removal procedures.

The highest risk now is likely to be faced by those who are working in environments where asbestos has been left hidden and undisturbed in buildings or large-scale machinery which are earmarked for clearance or renovation. These could include construction workers, mechanics, ship or industrial boiler maintenance / repair men.

Wherever or whenever it is suspected that asbestos material has been uncovered, a full asbestos inspection must be carried out, the area sealed – with accompanying warning signs – and the entire removal process placed under the control and managed by fully authorised, legal asbestos disposal contractors.

Illegal fly-tipping, which is estimated to occur every 35 seconds across Britain, can incur a Magistrates Court fine of up to £20,000, an unlimited fine imposed by a higher court, or a prison sentence.