Asbestos and Demolition - Contaminated Waste and Land

Asbestos and Demolition - Contaminated Waste and Land

The expectation of finding asbestos on brownfield sites and historic piles of demolition rubble is quite normal and harks back to a very different time when asbestos containing materials (ACM’s) were not routinely removed from buildings prior to demolition. However, under modern legislation it is now largely unacceptable to demolish buildings which still contain ACM’s, other than where special circumstances apply - typically relating to safety or operational concerns. However, it is well known that such a practice still continues in some quarters, even where a robust safety case has not been prepared.


In addition to the possible breaches of safety and asbestos legislation that may arise from demolishing or refurbishing buildings which still contain ACM’s, it is also important to recognise that this may result in the generation of vast quantities of hazardous waste (known as ‘special waste’ in Scotland). The regulatory framework relevant to the production, classification, haulage and disposal of waste material is complex, with waste materials being classified as ‘hazardous’, ‘non-hazardous’ or ‘inert’. This classification will generally determine the ultimate disposal route for the material (e.g. the status of a suitable landfill site). So far as asbestos in demolition rubble is concerned, a 2-part ‘test’ must be passed for the material not to be deemed ‘hazardous / special’:


  1. Loose asbestos fibres must be present at <0.1% AND
  2. There must be no presence of bulk/discrete ACM’s (i.e. identifiable pieces) in the waste consignment


In situations where ACM’s have been left in situ prior to demolition, the entire rubble pile will normally fail Part 2 by virtue of there being identifiable pieces of the ACM contaminating otherwise clean material. This results in the entire waste consignment being classed as hazardous/special waste and attracting the associated considerable disposal costs, landfill tax and safety considerations relating to its handling and management. SEPA has also now made its position on this clear, stating that “where demolition takes place without prior removal of asbestos then the resultant demolition material will be deemed to be special waste, until proven otherwise”.


There are, of course, options available to ‘clean up’ asbestos contaminated rubble and/or land but this does require careful consideration of the nature and scale of contamination and the planning/end-use intentions for the site or material in question. Whilst this may be suitable for inherited problems, for projects that are yet to start it is generally a more fruitful (and legally compliant) exercise to properly specify the asbestos works component early in the planning process. A good asbestos remediation project manager should be able to advise on the relevant safety, quality, compliance and cost control issues.  


As a final point, it is always worth remembering that the client retains a level of legal liability over the work carried out by contractors, by virtue of the client’s duty to properly ‘monitor’ contractors. Therefore, the proper management of asbestos in demolition, refurbishment and land works is extremely important from both a compliance point of view and to ensure that you are not left with an expensive clean-up problem.


The ACS Asbestos Remediation Project Management Department has particular expertise in the inter-related asbestos, safety, environmental and waste management considerations associated with these types of projects and would be happy to provide help or advice if required. ACS Managing Director Professor Roger Willey has also spoken extensively on the subject of asbestos contaminated land and a recent topical webinar can be seen here:




[Martin is a qualified Chemical Engineer and Safety Practitioner specialising in asbestos risk management. He is a member of the Faculty of Asbestos Assessment and Management and has been a Director of ACS for over 20 years.]