The illegal dumping of asbestos waste has long been a problem in the UK, recently highlighted when fly tippers left an asbestos water tank at a Scottish beauty spot in the hills near Greenock.
Local residents were naturally outraged, as serious health issues can result if asbestos dust and fibres are released into the air. Asbestos needs careful handling and removal, and generally has to be disposed of by licensed contractors.
How big is the problem of fly tipping asbestos waste?
Fly tipping is often regarded simply as a nuisance when it involves household waste or items of furniture. If toxic substances such as asbestos are involved, however, it becomes a criminal act.
The legacy of such widespread asbestos use during previous decades means that many older buildings still contain the substance in some form. In 2014, over 12 tonnes of asbestos waste were reportedly dumped illegally in NE Lincolnshire alone, costing the local council around £5,000 for its safe removal. Materials containing asbestos were left in country parks, lay-bys and alleyways in the area.
Local councillor, Ray Oxby, touched on the possible reason why fly tipping is such a problem:
“There are many respectable licensed contractors that routinely dismantle and dispose of this material in a lawful way at licensed disposal sites within our area. However it does cost money.”
Is cost the main issue for fly tippers?
Considering that a licensed contractor is generally needed to remove and dispose of asbestos waste, and that this attracts a significant charge, the driving factor for many fly tippers is likely to be money.
Health and Safety Executive rules and regulations specify the training needed to deal with various types of asbestos-containing materials, with asbestos awareness training allowing tradespeople in general to recognise and avoid asbestos during their working day.
Designated areas for asbestos waste are located around the country. The government encourages anyone who sees fly tippers in action, or who find dumped materials they suspect contain asbestos, to report it to their local council.
A criminal offence
Fly tipping asbestos waste is a criminal offence that can result in a prison sentence for offenders. The government takes this problem seriously and has produced a report into fly tipping, which revealed:
“Over 98 per cent of fly-tipping prosecutions in England in 2014/15 resulted in a conviction. The vast majority (82 per cent) resulted in a fine. Other outcomes included conditional discharge, community service and 21 instances of custodial sentences.”
Cases have occurred where people claim to be licensed contractors qualified to safely remove asbestos. These people then go on to dump the toxic material illegally, after taking money from the person or company who hired them.
Some clarity over who is actually licensed to handle and remove asbestos is provided on the Health and Safety Executive website, where a list of licensed asbestos contractors is available alongside the types of work requiring notification and licensing.