It is often found in buildings, but when Asbestos seeps into the ground it becomes a hidden danger lurking in soils on many construction sites. In this information piece we explain the critical importance of professional remediation and understanding the risks Asbestos poses to human health, business continuity and the environment. Gain valuable insights into the latest methods used in the safe and effective removal of this hazardous substance.
Asbestos - the hidden danger
Often Asbestos is nearly invisible to the naked eye as the micro-fibres are too small to be seen in heavy soils, so knowing where it is likely to be prevalent is important, for instance it is very common to find previous waste materials including Asbestos, when working on brownfield sites. These materials were most likely left onsite from many years’ ago when guidelines were less stringent than they are now. Asbestos cement products can be found on previously demolished building sites, unlicensed landfill, in fly tipped waste and on-site burial of asbestos cement products. Consequently there are now many sites across the UK that have inherently been left with an Asbestos problem.
How dangerous is Asbestos?
Asbestos is most harmful when the ground is disturbed, such as with construction as it releases the fibres that, when airborne can be breathed in causing risk of lung damage. Asbestos cement products can still pose a significant health problem if not handled correctly. This type of Asbestos is bound in a matrix of materials, usually a mixture of chrysotile asbestos and cement. The asbestos fibres are mostly bound into the cement and are not readily made airborne, unless it has been badly damaged or recently broken up.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is the name for a group of natural occurring mineral fibres. Due to their strength and heat and chemical resistance asbestos was commonly used in the past in buildings as insulation and fire proofing. It was also used as a component in other building materials. There are three main types of asbestos:
- chrysotile (white asbestos)
- amosite (brown asbestos)
- crocidolite (blue asbestos)
Asbestos in soils can be fibres or larger pieces of solid material that contains asbestos such as piping, floor or roof tiles or insulation. Asbestos can also be found on building materials that have been sprayed with asbestos coating.
What to do if you suspect or find Asbestos
Sometimes Asbestos pieces are large enough to be visible, some are not, however, when any Asbestos is suspected or identified on site the project must come to a stop and the affected area zoned off. It's important to ensure site safety with controlled access zones and decontamination areas set up to service the quarantined zone. You must then contract a company licensed to establish a safe and workable solution, agreeing the key points and milestones ahead of work commencing. Ensure that the risks are being controlled with a fully documented method of work and full risk assessments that is site specific.
Sampling & analysis
Soil sampling is the correct way to determine whether Asbestos is present. Samples will be collected from key areas of the site and sent to a lab for professional analysis. This will provide quantitative and qualitative results, but it’s important to note that no matter what % of the soil contains Asbestos it will require complete removal before any construction work can begin.
All works must be compliant
All field operatives must follow the Approved Codes of Practice (ACOP) to ensure processes and systems are effective and compliant with the Control of Asbestos Regulation 2012 (CAR 2012). Asbestos waste materials are deemed hazardous and are required to not only be removed from site by a suitable licensed contractor, but can only be taken to a landfill licensed to receive it. Rigorous control of access and decontamination zones, including plant and machinery provides further contamination control.
Having Asbestos soils professionally removed will:
- Reduce project delays
- Prevent further spread
- Lessen financial losses
How can Asbestos be removed?
If Non-Licensable Asbestos is suspected or found onsite it can, where possible be removed by means of manually picking the Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs) from the soils to reduce the contamination of asbestos to non-hazardous levels. This will in turn reduce remediation and waste material disposal costs.
Excavation is the best method for complete removal of Asbestos contaminated soil, and will often be planned in after manual extraction to ensure that all contaminated ground is removed in a controlled and compliant way. After the soils have been removed a full report should be provided on the project outcome including volume of Asbestos materials extracted and volume of soils carted away.
Biosecurity is vital
Biosecurity protocols are primarily a practice undertaken to prevent the unwanted spread of hazardous waste including Asbestos. Simple check protocols such as ‘stop-clean-dry’ will help prevent spread of particles between sites. Planned working activities when working to remove Asbestos waste help to ensure no accidental spread occurs. Clean site protocols ensure correct and thorough decontamination of equipment, clothing and PPE and a clean, safe site on completion. Ensure these actions are part of any planned Asbestos removal contract.
To sum up
Asbestos is a hazardous substance that is often unseen, requiring professional soil analysis and removal.
- If you find Asbestos onsite we advise you put the project on immediate hold and implement the correct procedures to avoid risk to your staff or contractors.
- Ensure you contract a company licensed to undertake contaminated soils analysis and full removal works.
- Don't forget about the biosecurity measures, stop the spread!