Asbestos in soil and made ground

Asbestos is a carcinogen and a possible soil contaminant. Inhalation of airborne asbestos fibres may cause serious health effects, including lung cancer and mesothelioma.

The numbers of deaths from asbestos-related diseases has risen in recent decades, with the construction industry statistics having a high incidence. This is due to the extensive historic use of asbestos in building.

Once thought to be safe, asbestos was widely used as a durable, fire-proof and cost-effective material. Historical waste management and demolition practice resulted in asbestos containing materials (ACMs) being disposed in soil or made ground, potentially at any brownfield site.

CIRIA has recently published ‘Asbestos in soil and made ground: a guide to understanding and managing the risks’ (C733). This guidance identifies several key areas of uncertainty in current understanding, with recommendations for future research and policy.

Due to these uncertainties, the characterisation and assessment of potential risks is not straightforward. The guidance recommends a ´lines of evidence’ approach whereby more than one method is used to estimate the airborne fibre concentrations likely to be generated from soils at the site.

The document provides practical guidance for assessing and managing sites that contain soils or made ground potentially contaminated by asbestos. Part 1 of the guide looks at current legislation and policy and explains the different types, uses and products that have developed. Part 1 summarises the known effects of exposure to human health, reviews existing national and international guidance and explores compliance with the ‘Control of asbestos regulations 2012’ (CAR) through risk assessments, licensing and training requirements.

The document also looks at different factors to be considered when assessing the risks of the release of fibres from asbestos containing soils (ACSs). Parts 2 covers risk management including the principles of risk assessment, soil sampling and analysis, air monitoring and analysis, exposure assessment. Part 2 also looks at risk estimation and evaluation, remediation and communication.

Asbestos may be found in soil for various reasons. It may be present because buildings that contained asbestos were not demolished and disposed of properly or asbestos-contaminated soil was used as a topsoil or fill material at some point before its ban.

Asbestos in soil is a risk to health if fibres can become airborne and may be inhaled. The risk may be increased depending on the type