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Asbestos In Soils – Frequently Asked Questions

Why is asbestos in soils an issue on development, construction and demolition sites?

Asbestos containing materials (ACMs) were widely used in construction before 2000. Demolition materials and building rubble in ‘made ground’ can therefore often contain asbestos. Pieces of asbestos in soil, building rubble and made ground can be difficult to see and identify, whilst asbestos fibres in soil and rubble are generally invisible. Beyond the Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) 2012 to protect workers and the public from asbestos exposure, landowners and developers also need to understand the potential legal risks posed by asbestos in soils during redevelopment due to liabilities under other compensation-related legislation.

What if I discover asbestos in ‘site-won’ soils and fill?

Material excavated from site to be re-used on site can often contain asbestos. If discovered, take enough samples to give a reasonable idea of the amount and spread of asbestos in the soil. If the amount and spread is limited, separate the pile as much as possible by removing the clean section and keeping the impacted section in one place with as little disturbance as possible. Keep the soil damp, but not too wet as this will create run-off that may spread the fibres further. Assuming the soil results are above 0.1%, dispose of to a suitable licensed asbestos waste site if this is required. Asbestos impacted soil may not be sold on – it is effectively treated as an asbestos containing material under law. It may be possible to treat the soil to remove asbestos.

What if I find asbestos in imported sub-base materials?

Asbestos in recycled aggregate is relatively uncommon but does still occur. If found, it may be handled by a surface pick or a new cover system (track plates etc.). The risk assessment must be appropriate to the proposed activity on site e.g. driving over the contaminated area or piling through the affected material.  In the first case, the supplier of the aggregate should be contacted immediately to help with the design / provision of a solution.

Can I bury my asbestos impacted soils on site?

This depends on whether you are a private citizen or business operation. If you are a private citizen and you wish to bury asbestos or asbestos soil on your own site (such as your garden), and you don’t run a business on the site, then that is your legal right to do so (although if you sell the land, it may need to be declared as contaminated).

If however you run a business from the site, are developing the site as a business or have workers on the site who may be exposed to the material/soil, you (or the company that those workers are contracted to) have a legal duty to protect them by preventing their exposure to asbestos.

You can however still bury/re-use asbestos containing soils if they are less than 0.1% by weight asbestos and you have risk assessed the possible exposure to your workers / end-site-users from asbestos fibre exposure. The presence of the re-used soil must still be noted on the site file and may be required to be declared on a suitable contaminated land register which may be picked up by solicitors in terms of future land purchase/transfer. The area then becomes covered by Reg.4 of the CAR 2012. The material must be regularly re-inspected where practicable to ensure that it remains safe.

We have been working under an Asbestos Management Plan carrying out foundation excavations but have found bundles of Asbestos Insulation Board (AIB).  Is this now a licensed activity?

Almost certainly. As you will be disturbing the AIB and potentially severely damaging it during the excavation (in addition to physically removing it) this would be classified as working with a licensable product. You may not need to have the entire arisings classified as hazardous waste if you have a licensed asbestos contractor on site to hand pick the AIB out of the soil. You may then need to test the remaining soil to prove that it is below the 0.1% by weight hazardous waste threshold.

Do I need to test for Asbestos in soil samples, when five years ago it was acceptable not to?

You will need to test if you suspect asbestos in the soil, and if you intend on removing the soil from the site to another site or to landfill. In general, if you are working on a brownfield site, it is a good idea to test for asbestos in soils. This will always depend on the previous usage of the land – even an apparently pristine green field could have been used by a farmer to hide a demolished farm building.

Do my operatives need any training to work with Asbestos Impacted Soils (AIS)?

They will need training if the site risk assessment states that they may be exposed to asbestos. This could be working with non-licensed or licensed asbestos training or a bespoke training course for entering asbestos areas and decontamination. All workers on UK sites who are at any risk of encountering asbestos at work must legally have asbestos awareness.

What is the difference between Licensed and Non-Licensed work?

Licensed Works

Works where licensable products are present (any product used for heat insulation or where the fibre release is likely to be high i.e. above the control limit – such as Asbestos Insulating Board) are defined in the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. Licensable work may only be undertaken by trained persons who work for a company or organisation that holds an asbestos removal license. The work normally requires the use of enclosures, negative pressure units and decontamination units etc, as well as training, insurance, PPE/RPE, method statements. In addition, the work must be notified to the HSE 14 days prior to starting work (see below). In essence, it is generally regarded to be work where it is not possible to prove that the control limit will be adhered to.

Non Licensed Works

Occasionally, even work on non-licensed materials such as Asbestos Cement may be classified as licensable work if there is a risk that the material is damaged or must be damaged during removal. Non-licensed work (work on Asbestos Cement, Floor tiles, textured coating etc.) can be undertaken by anyone providing they have the correct training, insurance, PPR and RPE and a method statement.

Notifiable Work

Notifiable work involves the notification to the HSE that work involving licensable asbestos is going to occur. This is usually higher risk work or work involving licensable materials. The notification requires 14 days prior notice and work may not be carried out until this time has elapsed. Notifiable work in buildings normally requires the use of enclosures and decontamination units. On contaminated land work, enclosures are not normally required but suitable decontamination is needed. A 4-Stage Clearance of the land at the end of the job is also required – a service REC have carried out from very small scale areas up to multi-hectare sites.

Not-Notifiable Work

Non-Notifiable work can be carried out without any prior notice to the HSE. This is normally work on Asbestos Cement, Floor tiles, textured coating.

Notifiable Non-Licensed Work

There is a ‘Middle Ground’ – Notifiable Non-Licensed work: this is used for non-licensed (lower risk) asbestos containing materials that must undergo significant but not major degradation. This category is usually used for asbestos cement (or similar materials) in soils where an excavator is to be used and there is a risk of significantly breaking the material during removal. This category does require notification to the HSE but the notification documents can be submitted on the same day as the work is to take place.

What are the main differences between a Geo-Environmental investigation and an Asbestos investigation?

In short, the amount of data gathered. An asbestos in soil investigation could be surface sampling, trial pitting or window sampling. Materials are logged (quite basically as most asbestos surveyors undertaking this work are not geo-technically trained) with visual type and approximate depth recorded. Samples are taken depending on client’s requirements (in terms of number and whether quantification is needed).


Can’t find what you’re looking for? Try our general Asbestos FAQs page here.

If you have a query or site issue relating to asbestos in soils, ring our asbestos specialists on 0845 676 9303 or email

REC provides a full suite of asbestos related services including sampling and analysis of suspect materials for asbestos, undertaking assessments for asbestos contamination on the surface, in soils or in the ground, as well as providing wider services relating to the investigation of contaminated land.