Apparent lack of asbestos awareness and disregard for HSE survey procedures during building renovations or demolition are regularly brought to the attention of the law courts, resulting in large fines for the offending contractors and property owners. In many cases, a combination of error, oversight or misunderstanding is a contributory factor.

While it tends to be the small or mid-size firms that are brought to prosecution, the large contractors and developers are certainly not immune to failing to carry out the requirements set out in the Control of Asbestos Regulations.

Plans for the first phase of an International Financial Centre at the Esplanade, St. Helier, Jersey, which is to be developed on reclaimed land known to contain several areas of asbestos landfill, have recently been submitted. However, it has also been confirmed that there has been no management surveys for asbestos undertaken.

The proposal originally proposed basement parking to three levels below ground, which would require excavating beneath sea level and the removal of toxic landfill containing both asbestos and hazardous incinerator ash. Following organised opposition to the plan, a new guideline was imposed by the Department of Planning and Environment to limit excavations to just one basement level only.

However, compliance to the new guidelines may not be enough. The Jersey campaign to halt excavations below sea level and remove the deadly material is gaining momentum as questions are being asked about the safe disposal of such a large quantity of asbestos landfill. There is also grave concern over the health risks posed to both excavation workers and the surrounding area residents.

Once asbestos fibres are disturbed and become airborne, they can remain in the atmosphere for days and are easily inhaled.

The history of asbestos exposure is well-documented, which clearly shows that fibres can remain embedded in the lung linings for up to 50 years before asbestosis symptoms or signs of the fatal incurable mesothelioma cancer become apparent. Medical research has clearly established that inhalation of even the smallest amounts has the potential to damage the lining of lungs.

According to the HSE, more than 1.8 million people are exposed to asbestos every year and despite a fall in mortality rates for many other types of cancers, mesothelioma still accounts for around 2,300 UK deaths annually.