Asbestos can turn up in the most surprising places. A safe recently stolen from a church in Ilfracombe, North Devon, which was later discovered ripped open on a path nearby, was found to be lined with asbestos insulation. Police said that the burglars “may well have exposed themselves to the asbestos” when they removed the safe contents – the church silverware.

Reports of asbestos being routinely uncovered feature frequently in the local press, which may help to raise asbestos awareness and act as a constant reminder of the continuing risk of exposure thirty years after the first UK ban was introduced in the mid 1980s.

Potential health risk

Most asbestos news tends to involve the discovery of asbestos-containing materials in public facilities, most typically, schools and hospitals, and in former industrial premises, such as paper mills, foundries and power plants. At the height of asbestos use, around 170,000 tons of asbestos was imported each year into the UK from the 1950s until the late 1970s and early 80s. As a result, asbestos was used by the construction industry as anti-corrosive and fire proof insulation in almost every type of building, including housing estates, office blocks, high street stores, libraries and restaurants.

Asbestos found in a sports centre in Aberdare, south Wales, built in the 1970s, is another recent example of a potential health risk, which is causing a delay in its demolition to make way for the construction of a new athletics stadium and track. Opening of the new facility is now put back until 2017 because a higher level of asbestos than first thought was found within the brickwork mortar of the former centre building. A council spokesman said that the quantities of asbestos means that demolition will be carried out “brick by brick.”

It’s not the first time that a sports centre has been controversially linked to asbestos.

Asbestos mixed in with the soil

Three months before the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, an environmental campaign group brought a legal action over the building of a basketball training facility. The local residents were worried over the potential health risk of large quantities of asbestos they said was mixed in with the soil, rubble and debris from landfill dating back to the 1960 and 70s.

Another unexpected discovery of asbestos also involves topsoil accidentally brought to Stonehenge during landscaping work at the new £27 million visitors centre, which was uncovered in 2014 – one year after the centre opened. Concern was also raised when it was reported that asbestos was present everywhere across the entire London Underground network. Specific problem spots were said to be located at the eastern end of the Central line, running along the tunnel walls from Mile End station.

Another example of unexpected asbestos

However, the majority of local press reports feature the tragic stories of elderly mesothelioma victims who were exposed to the deadly fibres at their former workplaces. Most of the victims were employed in the known asbestos-using industries, including shipbuilding, construction and vehicle assembly or were tradesmen, such as plumbers, electricians and service/ maintenance engineers.

In another example of unexpected asbestos, a recent inquest heard that a 72 year old electrician used to carry out work in a number of police stations across the Shropshire area where it is thought his exposure to asbestos occurred. The coroner said there was “a clear history of work-related asbestos exposure” and recorded a “clear verdict of industrial disease.”

The building and construction industry, along with the Health & Safety Executive, repeatedly caution that any property built or renovated up until 2000 is likely to contain asbestos. This must also include any type of premises beyond standard commercial and residential builds.