A pile of asbestos waste remains dumped just yards away from a main road in Peeblesshire, Scotland after being flytipped more than five weeks ago because of a dispute over who is responsible for paying to pick up the mess.

The flytipping of asbestos waste has long been the scourge of local councils expected to clean up the hazardous material illegally dumped near roadsides and country lanes by rogue waste collection firms.

There is also the not insignificant environmental health risk. Any member of the public who comes into the vicinity of the exposed edges of broken up asbestos materials – most often corrugated roof sheeting or interior insulation wallboards – is likely to breathe in airborne fibre dust particles.

Misunderstanding and lack of asbestos awareness to the very real health risks continue to prevent the correct management, disposal and protection against exposure once the deadly materials have been uncovered. In particular, property owners or builders may decide that to avoid additional time and expense, they will simply remove asbestos waste without observing any of the regulatory protection or disposal procedures.

“An open invitation to all flytippers”

According to a local Scottish Borders councillor who discovered the flytipped asbestos in early December, the materials were dumped ten feet away from the D83/1 road between Ashiestiel and Walkerburn, “near a farm gate so it may be considered to be on private land”, adding that its continued presence was “sending out an open invitation to all potential fly tippers.”

Despite of the warning, it seems the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), the NHS Borders and the local council are all still involved in deciding if the waste material is on “private land” and “continue to investigate the fly-tipping incident.”

At the same time, the issue of illegal flytipping, which includes asbestos waste and potential risks of exposure linked to mesothelioma or asbestosis disease have also been the target of campaigns by local authorities around the country.

Illegally dumped waste up by 10 per cent

As a result of councils having to deal with more than 711,000 incidents of fly-tipping in England, in 2012/13, during the same period more than 72,000 warning letters and 32,000 statutory notices were issued by local authorities who also carried out nearly 48,000 duty of care inspections and over 425,000 enforcement actions.

While nearly a third of all flytipping incidents were a “small van load size” and nearly 45 per cent were on highways, one in five of illegally dumped waste occurred on footpaths, bridleways and back alleyways, up by 10 per cent on the previous year.

Of the 2,200 local authority prosecutions against waste offenders, nearly 99 per cent of cases resulted in a conviction.

Public exploited by rogue firms

In 2014, Somerset Council, ran a training course aimed at improving the knowledge and skills of their enforcement officers to identify asbestos, ensure its safe removal, protect the public and investigate its source.

In a bid to prevent ordinary members of the public from being illegally exploited by rogue firms who say they will correctly dispose of asbestos waste for a special price, a number of recycling sites accepted, at no cost, securely “double” sealed asbestos waste, and paid-for collections of asbestos arranged with the Somerset Waste Partnership.

Section 34 of the Environmental Protection Act directly places businesses under a ‘Duty of Care’ to manage their waste in a proper and legal manner. This means that the entire process of removing asbestos waste must be put under the control and managed by fully authorised, legal asbestos disposal contractors.

Special permission required

Working with asbestos is also strictly controlled and is subject to a statutory ‘permission’ regime. Since 2012, new procedures have been in force, known as the ‘Asbestos licence assessment, amendment and revocation guide’ (ALAARG). While chiefly aimed at regulators and others who need to apply for a licence to undertake work with asbestos, nevertheless, procedures are also set out for when special permission is required, as well as the standard license types and their conditions.

The majority of asbestos work has to be undertaken by a licensed contractor but any decision on whether particular work is licensable is always based on the evaluation of risk.