There are significant concerns surrounding the illegal dumping of asbestos products worldwide. The substance was found to be carcinogenic in the 1980s, and while asbestos is no longer used in the manufacturing of new products in many parts of the world, it remains in lots of older buildings, cars and household items.
As a result, we are seeing more and more reports of illegal asbestos dumping around the world, including in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia as companies seek to rid themselves of the toxic substance while sidestepping asbestos laws.
When asbestos is removed, it must be done so in a safe and controlled environment to limit the impact of the tiny, needle-like asbestos fibers becoming airborne. In general, contractors, demolitionists and those in the construction trade are among the occupations most at fault. They have been known to dump large amounts of asbestos to avoid paying removal specialists.
Illegal asbestos disposal can leave companies facing huge fines.
The Impact of Illegal Dumping on Health and Environment
Any asbestos material not disposed of according to the rules of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is deemed illegal. It‘s detrimental to the environment and named as a pollutant, but is also harmful to people in the areas surrounding the asbestos disposal.
Inhaled asbestos fibers can pierce the membrane surrounding the lungs, heart and abdomen and may eventually cause tumors. Large quantities of asbestos must be removed and disposed of by an asbestos abatement specialist to ensure that no fibers are inhaled or left behind. There are substantial fines for those who do not play by the rules.
Illegal Asbestos Dumping Regulations
There are many laws and regulations surrounding asbestos dumping around the world. In the U.S., the Clean Air Act regulates most of the asbestos-related dumping cases, and the EPA works closely with organizations like OSHA to ensure that all asbestos is disposed of safely.
In the U.K., citizens must abide by the Hazardous Waste Regulations, which recommends that companies contact an asbestos specialist, or follow safety instructions to minimize errors.
In Australia—which once had one of the highest rates of asbestos use per person in the world—the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations ensure that asbestos is disposed of in the correct manner.
Illegal Asbestos Dumping Cases
There are countless unlawful dumping cases around the world, but one such incident in Vancouver highlights precisely how dangerous leftover asbestos can be. A resident found 30 bags of asbestos off a rural road, next to a berry farm. The area was popular with walkers and runners, not the mention berry-pickers, farm workers and the abundance of wildlife in the area.
The asbestos bags were left in plain sight, but they were also sat along an irrigation line that led into the farmland from canals. Contamination from the asbestos waste could have easily been carried in the water and into the soil, therefore putting the berries and other arable crops in danger of becoming polluted. This, ultimately, could have put those eating the crops at risk too.
Illegal dumping is terrible for the environment, but it’s also at the cost of the taxpayer. Companies who dump their waste avoid having to pay for removal themselves, so the relevant council must come and retrieve the debris and pay for its disposed. In 2016, this cost local taxpayers $1.5 million.
Large Fines for Those Found Guilty
The story is much the same around the world, with high fines for fly-tipping across the U.K., U.S., and Australia. Asbestos waste is dumped in back lanes, rural area, under bridges and in fields, increasing year upon year as companies seek to rid themselves of harmful materials. In the U.S., this disturbing trend of dumping asbestos illegally has been on the rise in recent years.
One of the most expensive cases was that of the Chattanooga, a Tennessee based Watkins Street Project, who pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act. Companies who do so face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
In 2013, two men in New York were sentenced for dumping thousands of tons of asbestos, violating the Clean Water Act. The debris was construction-related and was deposited on a 28-acre property on the Mohawk River, upstate New York. They were ordered to pay $492,000 each to pay for clean-up expenses, and each received a 3-5-year prison sentence.
Residents in Sydney, Australia, have also noticed that the amount of illegal dumping is on the rise. A council in Camden told the Sydney Morning Herald that they were forced to clean-up around 40 tons of asbestos materials over a 12-month period, with the outer areas of the city, in particular, being targeted as dumping grounds.
Illegal Asbestos Dumping on the Rise
The reason companies dispose of asbestos illegally revolves around cost. Because asbestos must be taken away by a specialist, they try to save money by dumping it themselves. For smaller businesses, in particular, the cost of dealing with asbestos can be significant, meaning that they sometimes must keep asbestos on site or try to remove it illegally.
Accessibility of legal disposal options is also a factor, as more remote areas struggle to receive the services they require or find it challenging to locate a nearby asbestos disposal area. To reduce illegal asbestos dumping, it has been suggested that removal costs should be lowered and campaigns increased to warn people about the harm asbestos can do to health and the environment.