Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate material which was widely used in the UK building trade up until 2000. Due to its fireproofing and insulation properties, asbestos was used in almost every kind of building until it was banned in the UK in 1999. Despite the ban 15 years ago, in 2011 it was estimated that over 50% of homes in the UK still contained asbestos.
All use of brown and blue asbestos in the UK was banned in 1985, with the import, sale and second hand use of white asbestos being banned in 1999. This was following growing public concern as to the risks to health.
Asbestos is known to cause a number of conditions including mesothelioma; a cancer of the lining of organs, asbestosis; a chronic condition affecting lung tissue, pleural thickening; a thickening of the lung membrane, and pleural plaques; patches of thickening of the lung membrane.
Asbestos is not a thing of the past
As asbestos was banned from use in the UK 15 years ago, many people are of the opinion that these asbestos conditions are a thing of the past and their prevalence will be in decline. Asbestos conditions have a latency period of up to 50 years. This means that someone who was exposed to asbestos 40 years ago may only now start suffering with symptoms of an asbestos related condition. With this in mind, people could be being diagnosed with asbestos conditions into the 2050s.
It is not only the lengthy latency period of asbestos conditions that is prolonging their existence. Asbestos is still present in many buildings, both domestic and commercial and when correct procedure is not followed, workers, residents and passers-by could be exposed to asbestos dust and fibres.
Dangers of asbestos on constructions sites
Another asbestos issue that has been raised in the news recently is that of landfills and contaminated ground. Many old landfill sites which were previously places to dump asbestos, are now being redeveloped, during such work old asbestos material could be disturbed. This could cause construction workers or future residents to be exposed to asbestos.
Residents living close to such a site in Sandbach have raised concerns with how asbestos-contaminated ground is being handled. The site off Hassall Road is being redeveloped for the construction of detached homes and scientific investigations have revealed lead, mercury and asbestos in the ground. A risk assessment report has stated that the risk to human health is moderate but does not pose a risk if the site is not disturbed. The report also details control measures that should be taken to ensure the risk is not increased, these include damping down the soil and sheeting lorries prior to them leaving site.
However, residents have reported that lorries are not being sufficiently covered and potentially contaminated soil is falling out of the lorries onto the road. Cheshire East Council and the Health and Safety Executive are investigating the site.
The situation at Sandbach and other sites across the UK highlight the importance of asbestos awareness and educating everyone, particularly those working in the construction industry, about the dangers of asbestos and how exposure to asbestos can be prevented.