Brownfield sites and the danger of asbestos in soil

Asbestos in soil image

Our rich industrial past, and the subsequent redevelopment of land on which factories, mills and warehouses once stood, has led to a significant health and safety issue in the form of asbestos in soil.

Derelict and disused areas of land, known as ‘brownfield’ sites, are being used to address the UK’s housing crisis, but with the obvious benefits of this come the dangers of asbestos soil contamination, and an ensuing risk to those working on-site.

Why is asbestos found in soil?

The buildings originally sited on brownfield land are likely to have contained high levels of asbestos, being constructed at a time when asbestos containing materials (ACMs) were widely used to insulate and fireproof.

Lagging for pipe work and boilers, and sprayed coatings for fireproofing walls, ceilings and steel columns, were just two common uses. But it was the sheer overall volume of asbestos in industrial buildings that introduces the risk of contamination in soil following demolition.

The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that asbestos use was only banned in the UK at the end of 1999, so effectively any building constructed prior to this could have contained the substance.

So why does asbestos in soil pose a danger?

Asbestos in soil is a key health and safety issue, not only for construction workers and other professionals working on these sites, but also for local residents and buyers of the new homes.

During the demolition process microscopic asbestos fibres can easily be released into the air, or alternatively, may remain in the ground. As they’re not readily visible, they can cause health issues if subsequently disturbed by homeowners.

Asbestos is a known carcinogen that causes serious and terminal illnesses when inhaled or ingested, and a high number of deaths have been attributed to asbestos over previous decades.

According to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics, in 2015 alone there were 2,542 deaths from mesothelioma, a form of cancer directly related to asbestos exposure, and 467 deaths from asbestosis.¹

Dealing with the problem of asbestos in soil

Apart from the legal obligations of construction companies to protect their workforce, residents in the areas earmarked for brownfield development, as well as the house purchasers themselves, are likely to need reassurance that investigations have been undertaken and any asbestos safely removed.

It’s possible that conveyance documents won’t reveal the existence of asbestos if it lies buried in the soil, and therefore more detailed investigations including asbestos surveys and testing may need to be carried out.

If you require asbestos in soil testing and analytical support, we can provide the professional assistance you need. Acorn Analytical Services offers asbestos testing and inspection services – we can provide a fixed price quote and free, impartial advice based on the results.

Please contact one of our expert asbestos consultants to discuss your needs.

Neil Munro

I work in a dual role at Acorn Analytical Services focused primarily on growing and leading the business from our Northampton office base. My focus is on overseeing all sales, marketing and financial activities from Northampton. I assist clients with high-level asbestos management strategies and training. Together with Ian Stone I host our weekly podcast – Asbestos Knowledge Empire and I'm Co-author of Asbestos The Dark Arts and Fear and Loathing of Health and Safety.

Need Help? Request a Call Back

Request a call back from one of our expert Asbestos Consultants who will help you identify what you need

More Asbestos Articles

Acorn Lower Service 55

What happens when asbestos goes wrong?

Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, has been a staple in the construction industry for decades due to its heat-resistant properties. However, when mishandled, it can lead to severe health risks, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. Unfortunately, cases of asbestos mismanagement are still prevalent today, despite the wealth of information and regulations available to prevent such … Read more

asbestos an issue

Unmasking the Truth: Is Asbestos An Issue for UK Employers in 2023?

Is asbestos an issue for employers today, even a decade after regulations tightened? The answer, shockingly, remains a resounding yes. It’s easy to dismiss asbestos as a problem of the past, but the reality is that the spectre of asbestos still haunts many workplaces in the UK in 2023. Asbestos – A Lingering Threat Even … Read more

Asbestos removal 2

Acorn Help Raise Money for Help The Heroes

Saturday 4th May 2013 saw the second Tough Mudder event at Boughton House, Kettering. Taking part and helping to raise money for Help The Heroes was Acorn Analytical Services Director – Neil Munro. Tough Mudder® events are hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by Special Forces to test all around strength, stamina, determination, and camaraderie. … Read more

Acorn Lower Service 39

Firms fined for asbestos exposure risk at scrap yard and naval training base

A number of workers and Royal Navy personnel were exposed to asbestos after pipes lined with the dangerous material were left on a roadside before being put in an open skip and transferred to a salvage yard, a court has heard. The pipes, lined with asbestos insulation, were removed from HMS Sultan naval training base … Read more

DSCF0003 1024x764 1

Council in court for ignoring asbestos threat in school

Thurrock Council has been fined after admitting to failures in how it managed asbestos across its schools. Basildon Crown Court heard today (1 March 2013) that despite being made aware of asbestos concerns in a boiler room at Stifford Clays Junior School, no action was taken. A specialist contractor tasked with carrying out an asbestos … Read more

Asbestos demolition 3

Building owner fined for asbestos exposure

An industrial property owner has been prosecuted for exposing untrained workers to dangerous asbestos fibres following a series of failings at a building in Newport. In a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Abergavenny Magistrates’ Court heard today (21 February) that Mr Nasimul Karbani, from Middlesex, employed two workers and then helped … Read more

Management survey 1

Hospital trust in court for asbestos failures

A North East hospital trust has been fined after contractors were unwittingly exposed to asbestos fibres at Sunderland Eye Infirmary. Sunderland Magistrates’ Court heard today that over the weekend of 24/25 March 2012, contractors at the infirmary on Queen Alexandra Road drilled through door surrounds on a ward to install cables. The following day concerns … Read more

Acorn Banners 23

Swansea engineering firm and building contractor fined for asbestos exposure

Workers were exposed to dangerous asbestos fibres following a catalogue of errors by an engineering company and a building firm during a demolition and refurbishment project in Swansea, a court has heard. The project was badly managed, with untrained staff put in charge of the operation, and was underpinned by inadequate surveys for the presence … Read more