Tonnes of asbestos found on site earmarked for housing

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Seven hundred tonnes of asbestos have been buried on the site of a former power station, on land that has now been earmarked for housing. The situation at Yelland Quay in Devon, has caused consternation among local residents who recently gathered to protest.

As well as housing, development plans include a marine energy park and an open public space. The presence of such a large amount of asbestos is disconcerting for local people, but a report has come to light suggesting that asbestos may also be present in ash beds on the site.

Dealing with asbestos waste

Various rules are laid down to cover the removal and transfer of asbestos waste, including the Hazardous Waste Regulations and the Carriage of Dangerous Goods Regulations. Asbestos is regarded as hazardous waste when the asbestos content exceeds 0.1%.

Most asbestos waste is subject to the Carriage of Dangerous Goods Regulations, and must be transferred in a lockable skip. Licensed contractors should be used to handle or remove it, so it doesn’t cause a health and safety risk.

Matt Steart, an architect working on the project, said:

“I can confirm the existing asbestos is buried to the east of the site and has been successfully capped by the applicants with the relevant approvals. This area is not to be developed on as part of this proposal and will be promoted as public open space.”

The 700 tonnes of asbestos is said to be buried beneath concrete within the old power station pump house.

Contaminated soil

It is not unusual to find traces of asbestos in the ground near former industrial buildings. Housing developers are obliged to take remedial action as part of health and safety regulations before building can commence, to safeguard those working on-site and also prospective house buyers.

Brown field sites in the UK are widely used for housing, as part of a government campaign to provide more new homes, but figures from the Department for the Environment indicate that 85% of brown field land may be contaminated with asbestos.

Geotechnical investigations, analysis, and laboratory testing of samples, all help to establish whether or not asbestos is present on a site earmarked for houses. Once this has been done, additional risk assessments allow developers to gauge the ongoing level of danger to the public and construction workers.

When asbestos is visible in the ground

Certain elements indicate how dangerous asbestos might be when it is visible in the soil, including:

  • Whether the asbestos is in good condition, has started to degrade, or has already broken up
  • Which type of asbestos is in the ground – whether it is loose-fill asbestos, cement sheeting, or Asbestos Insulating Board, for example
  • Whether the soil conditions are dry, damp or wet, when removal work begins

Failing to deal with asbestos correctly is a serious offence. It can result in heavy fines, or even a prison sentence in the most serious cases.