More than two dozen properties were flooded in areas centred around or close to former asbestos industry blackspots in the North East of England, such as County Durham.
At the start of May, five flood warnings were still in place for the north-east, and the Environment Agency also issued warnings of localised flooding across parts of the south-west, south-east, Midlands, eastern England and Wales.
Undoubtedly, a number of properties would have received some structural damage caused by the flooding, and there may be a probability of hidden asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) releasing asbestos fibre dust into the atmosphere.
During the peak period of use in the UK, lack of asbestos awareness to the deadly health risks meant that white chrysotile asbestos fibres were still widely used in the production of inexpensive insulating material for the construction industry materials until imports of the mineral were eventually banned in 1999.
A considerable number of residential properties, including entire housing estates, were built with asbestos-containing materials, such as insulating wall board (AIB), spray textured coating, pipe lagging, cement, joint compounds, masonry fill, sheetrock, siding, roof shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, etc.
Today, it is generally acknowledged that any property constructed or renovated prior to the late 1970s or early 1980s at least, should always be suspected of harbouring one or more forms of asbestos. If asbestos is disturbed in any way, the fibres are released into the air in the form of dust and can also travel through water as a result of flooding and dry out later.
Airborne fibres are easily inhaled and once lodged in the lung linings, cause severe inflammation leading to asbestosis disease or the fatal and incurable mesothelioma cancer. Unfortunately, a long gestation period of up to 50 years may elapse before asbestosis symptoms emerge, by which time the disease may have reached an advanced stage. Once confirmed, often prognosis is less than 12 months.
In some instances, flood damaged homes may even require an authorised and licensed asbestos removal to remove any asbestos-containing materials from the debris rather than homeowners or tenants attempting to clear potential hazardous waste themselves.
More than 1.8 million people are annually exposed to asbestos with at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed every year, according to latest estimates by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).