“Where does it all keep coming from?” is a question that may be asked by members of the public whenever the illegal dumping of asbestos is reported. “Surely there can hardly be any asbestos left?” The grim reality is that across the UK, there could still be millions of buildings containing hidden asbestos.

Between the 1950s and the late 1970s / early 80s, around 170,000 tonnes of asbestos was imported each year into the UK. Even during the 1990s, around 10,000 tonnes of white asbestos was still coming into the country to be used in some 300 insulation products. The most toxic brown and blue fibre types were banned in the UK in the mid-1980s but white asbestos was still allowed to be used until the end of 1999.

Construction industry professionals regularly attempt to raise people’s asbestos awareness with repeated warnings that any UK property built or renovated up until about 20 years ago is likely to contain up to 30 per cent of the potentially deadly insulation hidden in its walls, floors, ceilings or outside roofs. An estimated 80 per cent of Britain’s 3,600 schools are thought to still contain either hidden or inadequately managed asbestos. In 2012, a House of Commons ‘All Party’ report noted that, ‘Over 140 school teachers have died from mesothelioma in the past ten years”.

Driven over and crushed into dust by passing vehicles

In the latest incident of asbestos flytipping, an estimated three tonnes of the toxic material was discovered along an Essex roadside notorious for illegal dumping of waste. Bags containing broken up asbestos roofing were deposited at 50 foot intervals, which were routinely being driven over and crushed into dust by passing vehicles.

Urgent local concern has been raised over airborne dust particles as the asbestos fibres dry out and start to break away from the damaged edges of the roofing debris. In response, the local authorities say they are “fully aware” of the flytipped asbestos and urge local residents to avoid the area while they organise specialist contractors to safely remove the waste.

The problem of flytipping and the illegal dumping of asbestos has continued to be a major challenge for local authorities struggling with annual costs of more than £1 million to properly clear the contaminated areas. Evidence grows of asbestos being unlawfully left in parks, on footpaths, churchyards and near schools. While the aim of most councils is to remove the waste over five days, it can take up to three months.

Total average of more than 6,170 flytipping incidents every week

A Freedom of information request in September 2017 reveals that there were a total more than 321,200 asbestos fly-tipping incidents just in that year alone, an increase of around 14 per cent in three years. Previously, The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) stated that across the entire country, illegal flytipping was rising by nearly a fifth, year on year.

The Freedom of Information (FOI) request for incidents of fly-tipping reported between November 2015 and December 2016 was sent to councils across Britain. Of 264 councils it was found that Haringey reported the most amount of flytipping over the course of the year with 39,036 incidents, followed by Manchester (30,386) and Birmingham (21,124). The top twenty councils for the most amount of flytipping reported an overall average of more than 6,170 every week.

Five different examples of flytipped asbestos

A significant amount of dumped asbestos is typically corrugated roofing. More than half (55 per cent) of all industrial / commercial properties in the UK contain a white “chrysotile” asbestos cement roof, with a fibre content of around 10 to 15 per cent, according to The Land Registry. Around three quarters of asbestos roofing still cover the buildings where they were built. At one recent incident of illegal asbestos flytipping near Heathrow, five different examples of asbestos were discovered – corrugated roof sheeting, insulating board, asbestos cement sheet, a fireplace and fire surround.

Recent increases in spot penalty fines of between £150 and £400 to anyone caught in the act of fly-tipping are simply no deterrent to those rogue building contractors determined to avoid paying official asbestos waste station fees.

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 can often end up at a WTS.