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Unlicensed disposal of asbestos waste a danger to volunteers

Volunteer ‘clean-up’ teams in South Lincolnshire have been warned to take care after 25 pieces of fly-tipped household and garden waste were found to have contained asbestos in the last four years.

A general lack of asbestos awareness could be an issue, as although individually the 25 items probably contained only small amounts of the substance, damage or degradation to materials could easily cause fibres to be released.

Asbestos awareness training, commonly associated with tradespeople and others working professionally in the construction industry, would benefit groups like this, and help to protect health and safety.

Rogue waste collection firms

The problem was reportedly caused by unlicensed waste collectors who charge householders for rubbish removal. They then dispose of it illegally on local waste ground, rather than taking it to the correct waste facility.

Prior to its UK ban in 1999, asbestos was widely used to make household items including floor and ceiling tiles, guttering and pipes. It continues to pose a risk to health, and disposing of it irresponsibly like this considerably increases the chances of exposure.

Dedicated asbestos courses

Asbestos awareness courses, also known as Category A courses, are widely available online, but can also be taken in a classroom environment. They provide the knowledge needed to recognise asbestos in all its forms, and are crucial for anyone likely to come into contact with it.

Courses for those carrying out non-licensed and licensed work with asbestos, Categories B and C, are also available. Asbestos is a known carcinogen, and it is against the law to remove most forms of it without the necessary licensing.

Inadvertently handling asbestos could release dangerous dust and fibres into the air. If inhaled, these fibres can become embedded in the lung membrane, setting up disease in later life.

Operation Fly Swat

Operation Fly Swat is the name given to a partnership between the Environment Agency, various Lincolnshire councils, housing associations, and a local prison. Set up to target fly-tippers, the operation has been very successful in tackling the problem – there were 1,500 cases in 2013/14, reduced to fewer than 1,060 in 2015/16.

Environment and Sustainability Office, Jenny Moore, remarked on the public’s general lack of knowledge about waste disposal, however:

“It’s amazing how few people know the law around fly tipping and that they are responsible for their waste until it’s disposed of in a legal and responsible way.”

Volunteer clean-up teams are told not to disturb any potential asbestos-containing materials, and to leave them well alone.

Health and Safety Executive advice

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides comprehensive advice online about dealing with asbestos, including information on asbestos courses. Asbestos awareness training is compulsory for all employers whose workers are likely to come into contact with it during a normal working day.

Residents in the South Lincolnshire area have been advised to ask for proper documentation if they hire waste collectors to dispose of ACMs. A list of current asbestos license holders is available to view on the HSE website.