A wheelie-bin filled with large pieces of corrugated asbestos was dumped outside a Worcester house and left for more than two days. When the scheduled refuse collection failed to take the asbestos waste, the houseowner contacted the local council. Despite an assurance that they “would send someone out that day”, no collection took place.

Increasingly concerned for the safety of his young children, aged four, six and eight – and others in the area as they pass on their way to a nearby primary school – the resident then called Environmental Health. The department said “there was nothing they could do” and advised calling the ‘flytipping team’. A Council spokesman said that asbestos could not be collected during regular bin rounds and a specialist contractor would instead remove the waste.

The illegal dumping of broken up asbestos sheets, either interior insulation board or corrugated roofing continues to be a regular occurrence, despite repeated asbestos awareness campaigns aimed at builders and tradesmen.

Increase in commercial waste incidents

Flytipping was up by 20 per cent between 2013 and 2014, according to latest figures from the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA). While 66 per cent of the 852,000 fly-tipping incidents reported involved household waste, there was a 62 per cent increase in commercial waste incidents from 40 thousand in 2012/13 to 65 thousand in 2013/14. Nearly 6 per cent of fly tipping incidents consisted of construction, demolition and excavation waste, up by almost 20 per cent from 42 thousand in 2012/13 to 50,000 in 2013/14. Around a third of all incidents consisted of a small van load of materials or less.

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.

Half a million enforcement actions

There are strict procedures for controlled asbestos removal and disposal, which involves secure containment by careful double bagging and dust suppression. Unfortunately, there are still cases regularly reported of property owners, duty holders or building contractors who are more interested in avoiding payment of ‘landfill tax’ or removal costs and simply use unlicensed removers.

Local authorities and the Environment Agency have a duty to clear illegally fly-tipped waste from public land in their areas, carry out investigations and a range of enforcement actions. In 2013/14, nearly half a million enforcement actions were issued by Local Authorities in England, an increase of 17 per cent on the previous year, and 2,000 prosecutions made against waste offenders, according to the DEFRA report.

Dust particles can be easily released into the atmosphere

The problem of asbestos flytipping is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. Despite the growing evidence that exposure to asbestos was directly linked to mesothelioma cancer and other asbestosis diseases, the building industry continued to use white asbestos even after the most toxic types were banned in the mid 1980s. As a result, the construction industry have stated that as many as half a million or more properties around Britain still contain asbestos materials and no property built or renovated up until 2000 should be considered safe from containing asbestos.

The Land Registry have also stated that 55 per cent of all industrial / commercial properties in the UK contain a white asbestos cement roof. The asbestos fibre content of roof sheeting is around 10 to 15 per cent, and the dust particles can be easily released into the atmosphere when disturbed.