Asbestos waste disposal continues to cause grief and suffering for ordinary members of the community decades after the deadly mineral fibres were banned. In the latest asbestos-related issue, residents of the New Forest area are voicing their opposition to plans for a site to be built for the sole purpose of asbestos disposal.

The number of properties around the UK believed to contain hidden amounts of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) has been estimated to be between half a million to four million. Nearly all asbestos discovered and removed from premises, such as housing estates, schools, hospitals, factory units and industrial plants will be simply dumped in landfill sites.

Community residents will quickly form campaigns

Today, increased asbestos awareness of the potential health risks means any failure by building contractors to handle and dispose of asbestos materials is frequently reported in the local and sometimes, national press. In addition, community residents will quickly form campaigns against authorities who plan to create asbestos dumping sites they see as being “on their doorstep.”

Recently concerns have been strongly expressed over an ongoing application for a change of site to an existing asbestos waste transfer station, which has operated for a number of years with no previous issues raised by either the Environment Agency or the local council. Residents are worried about “any leaked waste” being blown on to nearby properties, plus a concern over safety procedures at the site and the need for security lighting. The decision over whether to approve the application is expected to be made on 21 May.

Disturbance of asbestos in landfill sites

The Institute of Waste Management (in their Code of Practice for the Disposal of Asbestos Waste) have previously expressed their concern over the subsequent disturbance of asbestos in landfill sites, if and when they are developed at a later date.

In recent years, a number of campaigns have been organised by local communities to prevent asbestos being used as landfill in their area.

In 2012, for example, the first phase of excavations in the creation of an International Financial Centre at the Esplanade, St.Helier, was contested because it was being developed on reclaimed land known to contain several areas of asbestos landfill. It was also confirmed that no management surveys for asbestos had been undertaken.

In the same year, a more high profile protest was aimed for the second time at the planning application for the disposal of 645,000 tons of asbestos and other hazardous waste at Stowey Quarry, Somerset due to fears over contamination of the Chew Valley reservoir. It has been estimated that up to 150,000 tonnes of white ‘chrysotile’ asbestos waste could be disposed of at the quarry every year until 2027. A petition containing more than 4,400 Somerset and local area community signatures was presented to the Bath & North East Somerset Council in their continuing fight against the planned disposal.

No level of risk free exposure

Today, white asbestos in formally recognised as a Class I carcinogen with no level of risk free exposure, and its potential for causing harm should never be underestimated. While most victims of asbestosis or mesothelioma have been known to be directly in contact and continuously breathing in fibre dust particles over extensive periods of their working lives, the risk of “secondary” or “environmental” exposure can still be present.

The Health and Safety Executive report that 4,000 deaths are recorded from asbestos-related disease in the UK each year.