Flytipping, including the latest incident of an illegal dumping of asbestos waste, has seen a sharp rise for the second month in a row in the Worcester area. In the first weeks of January 2016, the local district council received 50 reports of flytipping incidents, which increased to 63 in February. Council officers have identified 20 problem “hotspots” and are also investigating a report of asbestos-filled black bags dumped in a lay-by near Droitwich, which had to be removed by specialist contractors.

Small building firms or property owners continue to ignore all advice, warnings and legal deterrents. They also appear to have very little understanding or asbestos awareness to the potential risks of asbestosis disease that can eventually result from handling the hazardous insulation materials. Equally of concern, is the potential health danger to the public of exposure to breathing in airborne dust from asbestos waste found illegally dumped by the roadside or in a country lane.

Illegal dumping of commercial waste rose by nearly two thirds

The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has highlighted that flytipping, nationwide, had increased by nearly a fifth, year on year. Illegal dumping of commercial waste rose by nearly two thirds, from 40 thousand incidents in 2012/13 to 50,000 in 2013/14, according to latest DEFRA figures. Of a total of 852,000 reported fly-tipping incidents reported, nearly 6 per cent consisted of construction, demolition and excavation waste. Around a third of all incidents consisted of a small van load of materials or less.

Worcestershire Council, police and government agency officials from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency and HMRC have been carrying out stop-checks on vehicles to ensure that those carrying waste were properly licensed. The maximum fine for flytipping was increased in July 2014 to £95,000 for individuals, £3 million for companies and a possible jail sentence of three years.

In addition, more than 72,000 warning letters and 32,000 statutory notices were issued across England in 2012/13 by local authorities who also carried out nearly 48,000 duty of care inspections and over 425,000 enforcement actions. Of the 2,200 prosecutions against waste offenders, nearly 99 per cent of prosecutions resulted in a conviction.

Homeowners innocently duped by rogue firms

However, the penalties still seem unable to deter potential offenders. Property owners, duty holders or building contractors often appear to be more concerned to complete the job as fast as possible and reduce the removal costs involved with paying official asbestos waste station fees. In some other cases, homeowners can be innocently duped by rogue firms who say they will correctly dispose of asbestos waste for a special price.

Asbestos materials are simply ripped out of a property, broken up by hand and removed by a vehicle to be illegally dumped just a few miles from the original site. Even if the materials are found to be in good condition, the handling causes fibre particles to become airborne with potential risks to workers who are often not wearing the required masks and protection, and to others in close vicinity. The asbestos fibre content of roof sheeting, for example, is around 10 to 15 per cent, and the dust particles are easily released into the surrounding atmosphere.

In a number of cases, a commercial property owner has not carried out any prior asbestos surveys or, if a survey was previously undertaken, the information is not passed on to the contractors. A tradesman may completely fail to recognise that the materials they are removing contain asbestos. A 2014 survey commissioned by the HSE found that only 15 per cent of tradesmen said they knew that asbestos may still be present in properties built up to 2000. More than eight in ten tradesmen did not know that white asbestos insulation continued to be used by the building industry after the 1985 ban on using brown and blue asbestos products.

Must be removed by a licensed asbestos contractor

Section 34 of the Environmental Protection Act places businesses under a direct ‘Duty of Care’ to manage their waste in a responsible and legal manner. Wherever it is suspected that asbestos materials have been uncovered, a full asbestos inspection must be carried out and the area correctly sealed off. Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, waste materials such as asbestos lagging, insulation board and roofing must be removed by a licensed asbestos contractor and go direct to an official landfill. Alternatively, small amounts of licensed asbestos materials may be taken to a Waste Transfer Station (WTS) where they are placed in a lockable skip before onward transportation to a landfill. Non-licensable materials, such as asbestos cements may also go direct to landfill but smaller loads do commonly end up at a WTS.

Unfortunately, the dumping of commercial or household waste, including flytipping of asbestos, is always likely to be seen as the more easier and cheaper option by some individuals. The problem of asbestos removal is not going away any time soon. It has been estimated that there could be at least half a million properties, both private and public still containing asbestos hidden within the fabric of the building. The Land Registry have also said that 55 per cent of all industrial / commercial properties in the UK could still contain a white asbestos cement roof.