Urgent requirement to find land for 4.4 million new housing properties in England and Wales by 2016 has led to Government legislation proposals for the redevelopment of 66,000 hectares – nearly 164,000 acres – of brownfield sites, and more controversially, greenfield sites usually reserved for agricultural or amenity land.

Before any building work can begin the land must be surveyed by professional asbestos surveyors. Often, demolition, construction and other building trade firms arrive onsite and uncover the extensive presence of hazardous asbestos-containing materials left behind and mixed in with the soil, rubble and debris from former demolished buildings.

Negligence or lack of asbestos awareness training often meant that previous demolition work would not dispose of the asbestos material correctly or worse, asbestos contaminated soil used as top soil or land fill.

Throughout most of the twentieth century, the widespread use of asbestos as a heat insulator and fire retardant in every conceivable type of industrial, engineering and manufacturing application, exposed countless thousands of men and women to the deadly asbestos fibre dust.

Once asbestos fibres are inhaled, they lodge permanently in the linings of the lungs leading to scarring of the tissue, asbestosis disease or to the formation of malignant mesothelioma cancer tumours. The long gestation period, however, means that the first mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms do not appear until some 15 to 50 years after initial exposure.

Unfortunately, at this late stage of confirmed diagnosis, the disease is likely to be very advanced and patient survival rates are usually between 4 to 12 months, possibly 18 months to 2 years with various intensive asbestosis treatments.

Despite the 1985 Asbestos (Prohibition) Regulations, which banned brown and blue asbestos, the use of white asbestos continued in the construction industry for another 7 years until finally, full asbestos handling regulations were introduced in 1999.

Consequently, it may be assumed that any building, commercial or otherwise, constructed prior to the late 1980s and early 1990s, was likely to contain asbestos containing materials, and which can still be found contaminating the soil, long after demolition or landscaping was carried out without due regard to asbestos removal regulations.

In other words, there is still a significant health risk to any person who comes into contact with the soil, whether directly as a site contractor or indirectly as a member of the public by ‘secondary exposure’ due to the strong possibility of loose and disintegrating asbestos fibre particles becoming airborne.

In the UK, the number of deaths from mesothelioma has risen from 153 in 1968 to 2,249 in 2008 and over 2,000 diagnosed cases are recorded each year.