Asbestos in soils – the risks and how to manage them


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Asbestos containing materials (ACMs) were widely used in construction prior to their ban in 1999. Many developers and contractors are aware of risks from asbestos in buildings, however asbestos in soils is becoming a prevalent matter for consideration.

It is often difficult (and sometimes not possible) to ensure that all asbestos is removed before demolition, and therefore asbestos in soil may be found in various forms such as loose fill, insulation, lagging, asbestos insulating board (AIB), and cement – with many of these fibres not visible to the naked eye.

Firstly, identifying whether there is asbestos in the soil is the main priority for developers, other things to consider after the identification include:

  • Can I leave the asbestos on site and, if not, how do I dispose of it?
  • How do I protect end users of the site, workers and the general public?

Protecting users, workers and the general public from asbestos in soil

The Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) 2012 requires actions to ensure the protection of workers and the general public from asbestos exposure resulting from work activities.

To determine whether asbestos in soils could be a potential risk, the first step is to carry out a risk assessment and soil testing via a ground investigation carried out by an experience environmental company. The thorough analysis of soil provides the accurate quantification of any asbestos fibres that may be present.

The mention of ‘asbestos’ will often ring alarm bells for developers; however, the presence of asbestos does not necessarily mean that contaminated soil needs to be removed from site. In many cases, the risk assessment may validate that the soil is safe to remain in situ if correct procedures are followed.

However, if unacceptable risks are identified, then remediation of the site is likely to be necessary.  For those involved in contaminated land projects, there are many legal and regulatory obligations that need to be considered in relation to the potential asbestos contamination of soils and made ground – speaking to a consultant and identifying potential risks early enough can help ensure asbestos compliance with minimal impacts on costs.

Asbestos Management Plans

The risks of asbestos exposure are greater for site operative and the general public during earthworks activity due to the soil being excavated, exposed and transported. This requires the consideration of different risks and control measures. Asbestos Management Plans seek to ensure compliance – ‘The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012’ require employers to carry out risk assessments where work with asbestos is necessary, to reduce exposure to asbestos and to prevent its spread.

The Asbestos Management Plan will be site-specific and the control measures will vary depending on the amount and type of asbestos present, the sensitivity of the site and the type of work to be carried out.

Early detection

The presence of asbestos in soil should not be a blockage to cost-effective and efficient development, as long as you ensure a qualified environmental consultant is involved in the project as early as possible.

REC is a UKAS accredited consultant with 4 in-house asbestos laboratories across the UK allowing us to provides clients with local delivery, quick turnaround, competitive pricing and flexible asbestos solutions.

For more information about asbestos in soils, visit our website or speak to one of consultants at or call 0845 676 9303.