Asbestos Awareness Week

Asbestos is a silicate mineral that has thin fibrous crystals, found in metamorphic rocks. There are six types of silicate minerals known as Chrysotile (white asbestos), Amosite (brown asbestos), Crocidolite (blue asbestos), Tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite. Evidence suggests that asbestos has been mined for more than 4,000 years, with records of it being used in 2500BC[1].

Initially, asbestos was used in the textile industry in Italy, in time, being adapted for use within a variety of products and materials. Records suggest up to 3,000 products made use of asbestos’ unique properties. This led to widespread mining of asbestos from the 1800’s, in Africa, Canada and Russia, and, subsequently, worldwide. Peak production was recorded around the mid 1970’s, when 25 countries were reportedly mining asbestos.

Recent records suggest that asbestos is still being mined in Russia, in a region applicably named ‘Asbestos’ where a million tonnes a year is reportedly mined[2]. Approximately 60% of this is exported from Russia to growing economies in China and India.

Asbestos was used for its acoustic, thermal insulation, tensile strength and fire proofing properties in the construction industry.

In the UK, asbestos fibres were in a variety of products from around the1940’s towards the end of the 1970’s. The use of these materials, knowns as Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs), was prolific within many structures built in the 1960’s to 1970’s, until it was banned in 1985; second hand reuse was, however, allowed up until 1999.

Due to sub-standard removal techniques, and poor demolition practices in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, asbestos fibres and ACMs are often found within the Made Ground soil on brownfield sites. The early identification and assessment of asbestos contamination in Made Ground soils on such sites is, therefore, essential to protect both the workforce and future receptors (ground workers and residents). The correct approach to this investigation is, therefore, critical.

Asbestos can cause serious illnesses, including lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.

The management and removal of asbestos material from buildings is well understood and has been controlled by UK legislation and best practise guidance for many years. Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) 2012, all public buildings and non-domestic properties are required to have a register of the asbestos contained within the buildings, to help manage it.

The protection of workers and the general public, in terms of exposure to asbestos from work activities, is also regulated by the Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) 2012.  This requires employers (and clients) to ensure exposures are prevented or minimised through the use of appropriate risk assessments and the adoption of appropriate control measures. This legislation applies to any work commissioned in relation to asbestos containing materials, including site investigation and remediation works. Additional requirements are also imposed by other legislation, such as the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM).

The discovery of asbestos in the ground during development can then lead to both significant construction delays and additional costs.

Southern Testing ensure that all sites are correctly assessed prior to any intrusive works being undertaken. In addition, all Made Ground soils are analytically screened for the presence of potential asbestos fibres and ACMs in the soil. Our contracted laboratories are UKAS accredited and provide the results to the standard of ISO17025.

Southern Testing practices, in accordance with the UK legislation under CAR2012 and HSG264 (2nd Ed), require that anyone working with asbestos/exposed to asbestos must be aware of the risks and have yearly refresher training.  All our site staff therefore attend in-house yearly training and are familiar with the appropriate HSE documents and HSG 248 in particular. We also have staff who hold UK Proficiency Qualifications in asbestos, being competent personnel to oversee remedial works.

We are able to provide options appraisals, as part of the remediation strategy, for sites contaminated with asbestos.  Our approach is to provide the initial identification, carry out a risk assessment, put together a plan of action and verify the remedial works (which includes verification sampling); we then produce a verification closure report on the completion of the works. The verification of the process to treat the asbestos contaminated soils has been part of our capabilities for some time and we are happy to provide advice and information to all our clients.

[1] http://asbestosfocus.co.uk/history.htm

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/business/global/city-in-russia-unable-to-kick-asbestos-habit.html

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