Matters relating to the illegal dumping of asbestos or flagrant disregard to containment / disposal regulations are not an infrequent occurrence in the law courts. Asbestos awareness to the deadly health risks from exposure and breathing in of disturbed fibre dust should be sufficiently well known by companies and organisations involved in land and property building or demolition.
However, issues surrounding the use or presence of asbestos sometimes come to light seem to show a forgetfulness of the history of the mineral and the suffering caused by asbestosis disease or the fatal mesothelioma cancer by the countless thousands of men and women around the UK who were exposed during the peak use years of the twentieth century.
Recently, it was reported that a second application has been received by the Council serving the Bristol, Bath And North East Somerset area for permission to turn the Stowey Quarry near Chew Valley Lake into a landfill site for the disposal of 645,000 tonnes of asbestos as well as other types of waste.
The first application made in July 2011 was reported to have been overturned, due it seems, to “ procedural errors” rather than a consideration of the potential health dangers to both quarry contractors and inhabitants of the surrounding area.
Following the news that a second application had been made, the Stop Stowey Quarry group, comprising environmentalists and local residents, have been given vocal support by Bath MP, Don Foster, who raised an official objection with the council, which highlights Environment Agency concerns over the risk to groundwater supplies by possible ground leakage.
The potential for contamination has also led to Bristol Water opposing the application although assurances have been made that the required assessment will be undertaken to ensure that both the environment and water supplies would not be adversely affected.
Although the use of the most toxic forms asbestos were banned from the mid 1980s onwards, white asbestos continued to be used in building industry materials because the fibres belong to a category considered as ‘low level’ but nevertheless, still a long term health risk.
Once fibres are inhaled, they remain within the lung linings, with the potential to cause pleural inflammation, lung tissue hardening and can eventually turn cells cancerous. Unfortunately, mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms may take between 15 to 50 years to emerge, often at a late stage when disease has spread to other organs.
The dangers of exposure to asbestos are far from being consigned to history. As recently as 2007, some 2,400 people were diagnosed with mesothelioma in UK, a four-fold increase since the early 1980s. According to latest estimates by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), more than 1.8 million people are annually exposed to asbestos and still at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed every year.