Flytipping of asbestos waste – on the rise or a seasonal outbreak? At the start of 2016, one local district council received 50 reports of flytipping incidents, which increased by more than a quarter (63) the following month. Recently, the incidence of illegal dumping of waste, including quantities of asbestos materials, have followed in quick succession across the north of England.

Not just the contents of a few bin liners scattered by the side of country lane but dangerously large amounts. In one case, more than a half a ton (600 kg) of waste was left piled up on a residential street. Another example involved “the biggest asbestos tip the council has ever had to deal with” when dozens of roofing sheets were left strewn across a public walkway.

Despite regular asbestos awareness campaigns by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and several local authorities, the dumping of asbestos waste – usually corrugated garage roofing or interior insulation board – continues to be regularly reported. Like the fatal mesothelioma cancer or asbestosis disease – known to be caused by exposure to the deadly fibre dust – there seems to be no cure for the illegal flytipping of asbestos. Government statistics show a significant increase in reported cases of illegal dumping of waste on public and private land.

Flytipping, nationwide, increased by nearly a fifth

The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has highlighted that flytipping, nationwide, had increased by nearly a fifth, year on year. Over a 12 month period, 900,000 cases of fly-tipping in England alone were recorded – up by 5.6 per cent (DEFRA). While a third of all incidents consisted of a small van load of materials or less, nearly 6 per cent consisted of construction, demolition and excavation waste.

At the start of November 2016, asbestos was found dumped at Shropshire beauty spot, The Wrekin – the latest incidence of flytipping in the area over the last few weeks. Even more recently, a road in Warwickshire had to be closed for four days following the dumping of waste – believed to be the remains of a demolished garage and its contents – including a quantity of asbestos containing materials.

In Blackpool, 600 kg of asbestos sheets sealed in blue bags were dumped in a residential street, and in Boston, a specialist contractor was brought in to remove and dispose of 50 corrugated asbestos roof sheets dumped on a bridleway and spilling into the canal water. The council believe the waste was removed from a commercial building before demolition.

Penalties still seem unable to deter offenders

In July 2014, the maximum fine for flytipping was increased to £95,000 for individuals, £3 million for companies and a possible jail sentence of three years. However, between 2014 and 2015, it was reported that local authorities carried out 1,810 prosecutions against waste offenders in England. (House of Commons Briefing Paper, May 2016). In South Derbyshire, the local council had to clean up after nearly 500 incidents of fly-tipping, alone. In May this year, the government granted local authorities to also issue penalty notices of between £150 and £400 to anyone caught in the act of fly-tipping.

Despite these changes, the penalties still seem unable to deter 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.

Tradesman still fail to recognise asbestos

Despite of efforts by construction industry organisations and the HSE to provide regular awareness campaigns and training programmes, it seems that tradesman could still fail to recognise that the materials they are removing contains 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.

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.