British Contractor Fined for Illegal Asbestos Removal

A judge at the Caerphilly Magistrates’ Court fined a building contractor £2,500 (US$3,893) for disregarding regulations governing asbestos remediation. Ron Couch Building Contracts Ltd. of Pontypool paid the fine after pleading guilty to two counts of violating the country’s Control of Asbestos Regulations. The firm was accused of taking on asbestos removal projects without a license.

According to reports, workers were replacing a boiler in a central heating unit at a private home. One of the workers was said to have detached a door containing asbestos-laced insulation to make room to move the old boiler. Another contracting firm working on a nearby project had an asbestos specialist on site. The asbestos specialist noticed the door sitting outside the house, saw the asbestos and alerted authorities to the danger. The magistrate also ordered the company to pay £1,250 (US$1,947) to cover cleanup costs.

Steve Richardson, who works with the British Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as an inspector, said that the Ron Couch project managers were “well aware” of the legal requirements surrounding asbestos removal projects. Mr. Richardson said that the firm had previously carried out a similar project involving a boiler flue. In that project, they followed the regulations on asbestos remediation and employed licensed specialists to handle the toxic insulation.

Mr. Richardson also said that the process used to remove the door exposed its edge. The door contained asbestos insulation board, also called AIB. Once the insides of the door were exposed, the asbestos insulation board inside would have been disturbed. When asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, the microscopic asbestos fibers become airborne and create a health hazard. Workers who handle asbestos are required to wear protective breathing masks and special coveralls to prevent exposure to the fibers.

Scientific studies have established a link between asbestos exposure and lung disease. The most serious disorder related to asbestos exposure is pleural mesothelioma, a type of cancer that targets the soft tissue surrounding the lungs. Recent reports from public health officials state that mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases are the number-one workplace killer among Britons. Mesothelioma also has a long latency period, so the number of deaths from the disease is expected to rise for the next ten to twenty years.

In 2006, the HSE updated the Control of Asbestos Regulations. The new rules stated that commercial property owners must conduct asbestos assessments on their buildings. These assessments should include the likelihood of asbestos exposure and methods for any future asbestos remediation. Violators may face up to two years in prison. The successful prosecution of these violations is the latest sign that the HSE and other British agencies are getting tough on asbestos.

Asbestos was banned in Britain in 1999, but many of the country’s buildings constructed over the last century still contain asbestos. The mineral was widely used in construction applications such as insulation, fireproofing, and concrete mixing. The source mineral was cheap and plentiful. Its fibers were lightweight and could withstand extreme temperatures, which made it a highly desired material in the construction trades.