Asbestos in soil is typically found on Brownfield Sites. A ‘Brownfield’ site is an area of land that was previously developed, often but not always for industrial and commercial purposes. It may be contaminated – asbestos may lay buried. If you need to find out whether you are on a brownfield site, ask your local authority planning department.
Asbestos in soil has also been discovered in residential and commercial areas. The occurrence of buried asbestos is usually attributable to historical waste disposal predating our understanding of its toxic nature and regulation as such. Waste would typically emanate from the production, use or later removal of asbestos containing materials (ACMs). The cost of asbestos disposal to a regulated landfill is relatively high and it is possible that a proportion of asbestos in soils is also the result of more recent illegal waste disposal practices or even ‘fly tipping’ of asbestos waste.
Asbestos may also be found in soils as a result of poor asbestos removal works, for example resulting in the break up of asbestos cement roof sheets or asbestos pipe lagging during removal works. If these remain uncontrolled, fragments may fuse into soils or other materials, where they might spread further or be transported to other sites. There is also the possibility for historical buried asbestos to be disturbed by later groundwork or construction, leading to its distribution within site.
Asbestos containing materials (ACMs) may not be easily detectable by eye in the soil if broken down into small debris. Loose asbestos fibres are even harder to spot, and may require the use of a microscope to detect them. All laboratories analysing soil for asbestos must be accredited by United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).
Before digging on a brownfield site, it is good practice to sample the ground first. Any suspicious material requires analysis for asbestos. And even if no asbestos is found in the sample, the excavation may still reveal suspicious material.