Asbestos Related Illnesses in the Bioenergy Industry

When we think of asbestos, we usually picture old, condemned buildings filled with harmful asbestos-based insulation, but this isn’t always the case.

Since 1989, the use of asbestos has been banned in construction work in the UK and many buildings which contain this harmful substance, are being replaced or made safe.

While this is of course, good news, these buildings are not the only source of asbestos and in this article, we’ll be examining the rising cases of mesothelioma compensation claims by bioenergy industry employees.

Asbestos Related Illnesses in the Bioenergy Industry

What is Asbestos?

A naturally occurring substance, asbestos is a fibrous silicate mineral made up of long, thin microscopic fibrous crystals.  When dormant, asbestos can be relatively harmless but, the danger occurs when fibrils are released into the atmosphere and inhaled by humans.

Inhalation of asbestos can lead to serious diseases such as COPD and mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer which is associated with asbestos and which is almost always terminal.

In recent years, concerns have been growing over the number of bio energy employees who have been diagnosed with this devastating disease

What is Bioenergy?

Bioenergy is the term used for the generation of gas and electricity which is renewable and which causes less harm to the planet’s resources than other, more traditional methods which use coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear energy.

Bioenergy methods use organic matter such as food waste to create a flexible energy source. Wet feedstocks like food and other organise material is placed into sealed tanks and allowed to rot. This creates methane gas which can then be collected and burned to generate electricity. Dry materials like wood pellets are also burned in a furnace to boil water, create steam and thereby generate electricity.

Although bioenergy does produce carbon dioxide and release it into the atmosphere, it does so only at the rate at which the organic matter absorbed the carbon dioxide while growing. This makes it greener and more sustainable.

Energy crops are grown in the UK specifically for the use of producing bio-energy. There are currently 1855 bioenergy plants in the UK, employing around 35,000 people.

What’s the Connection Between Bioenergy and Mesothelioma?

At the beginning of this article, we mentioned that old buildings containing asbestos insulation are not the only places that asbestos can be found. In fact, at any given time, the air we breathe can contain asbestos.

However, this is usually at incredibly low levels of between 0.00001 to 0.0001 fibers per millimeter of air and does not pose any danger to human health. Having said that, many doctors will disagree, as many will argue that no level of asbestos is ever safe.

On average, it’s thought that the ‘danger zone’ for asbestos stands at around 1%. An individual who has been exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos may be unaware of this as symptoms will often not present themselves until ten or even twenty years after the exposure.

Asbestos occurs naturally in rocks, particularly altered ultramafic rocks and some mafic rocks. Asbestos can also occur naturally in some kinds of soil.

The Connection Between Plant Workers and Illnesses

It has been discovered that, in some instances, dedicated bioenergy crop sites have been created on land where the soil has been contaminated by asbestos, either naturally or through previous commercial endeavors.

Employees who are responsible for working with these crops including planting, nurturing and picking, become vulnerable to high levels of asbestos. When inhaled, this level of asbestos can be harmful to health and has led to mesothelioma.

As well as soil contamination, the process of converting food and organic waste into energy such as creating methane, can produce small amounts of asbestos. Although these may be minimal, continued exposure over time can lead to health problems in workers, including mesothelioma.

Unfortunately, mesothelioma is often caught late and on average, the life expectancy of the patient from the point of diagnosis is only between 4 and 18 months.

anaerobic_digestion_plant

Asbestos Claims in the UK

In 2020, there were 17,023 asbestos compensation claims, with payouts of around £233.9 million. Despite almost forty years passing since the prohibition of asbestos in buildings, some UK solicitors report that claims are increasing rather than dwindling as victims seek financial compensation after being diagnosed with asbestos related diseases.

While some of these claims are made by former employees of old-style power plants, more and more are now emerging from bioenergy facilities.

Further Risk Assessments Need to be Improved by Employers…

In 2022, it’s reasonable to assume that, when you start a new job, the last thing on your mind is the risk of coming into contact with asbestos. Many of the bioenergy employees who are now making claims are justifiably angry about the fact that they were never made aware of any risk during the course of their work.

While this is devastating, it’s not necessarily evidence of sinister dealings by bioenergy companies. In many cases, employers did not inform their employees of risk for the simple reason that they weren’t aware of it themselves.

There’s no doubt that bioenergy is the future as we continue to move away from environment harming processes. However, while we call this progress in some ways, employers will need to examine all of their processes and materials to identify any possible risks to employees, in order to prevent unnecessary illness and death.

The Complete Guide to Disposing of Contaminated Soil

Do you need to remove contaminated soil from your property? If so, this article will explain how to dispose of it safely.

Hire a professional company

Ideally, you’ll want to hire a professional waste treatment company to remove contaminated soil, which will ensure the soil gets properly treated at a facility. If you hire a random company or person, the materials might only be discarded where they will pose a danger to the environment, animals, and people.

disposal of contaminated soil

Proper contaminated soil disposal requires reputable industrial treatment facilities that use EPA-approved treatment processes, including chemical fixation, bioremediation, chemical oxidation, and absorption.

Soil can be treated in four different ways:

  • Excavation. Contaminated soil is removed from the ground. New topsoil is tested and distributed where the old soil has been removed.
  • Treatment. Here, the soil is treated in the ground where it is. There are various methods of extracting contaminants without removing the soil.
  • Containment. When soil can’t be removed or treated in place, it may be contained within some kind of barrier (such as a silt fence) that prevents it from spreading.
  • Blending. Depending on the level of contamination, sometimes good soil is blended with contaminated soil to reduce the concentration of harmful chemicals to a safer degree.

Some treatment plants also focus primarily on sustainability to limit the environmental impact of their services.

What contaminants make soil dangerous?

A variety of contaminants can make soil dangerous. Some of the most common one found in soils all over the world include:

  • Oil and grease
  • Asbestos
  • Adhesives, glues, resins, and latex
  • Laboratory chemicals
  • Filter cake
  • PFAS contaminants
  • Persistent organic pollutants (POPs)
  • Surfactants and detergents
  • Spent catalysts
  • Coolants and cutting fluids
  • Hydrocarbon contamination
  • Paints, inks, and dyes
  • Rags and absorbents
  • Heavy metals
  • Acid sulphate
  • Solvents and flammable waste
  • Contaminated sludge and slurries
  • Acids
  • Industrial wash waters
  • Dredge spoil

All of these contaminants can turn regular soil into hazardous waste.

Treat contaminated soil as hazardous waste

Soil contamination is considered hazardous waste and needs to be professionally removed and treated right away. Contaminated soil can become a major problem if you don’t take care of it quickly.

When left in place, contaminated soil can leach toxic chemicals into the ground and surface waters. The contamination may make its way into nearby rivers, streams, lakes, and drinking water supplies.

According to the EPA, contaminated soil can also affect indoor air quality and may be spread further as dust. In the water, contaminants accumulate in sediments that end up harming local ecosystems, wildlife, and humans.

If you don’t handle the problem, you could face lawsuits later on if future damage and harms can be traced back to the soil when you were responsible for it.

You will likely need a permit to remove contaminated soil

In many regions, you will have to obtain proper permits from your state’s environmental agency to remove hazardous soil.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set specific guidelines for removal of contaminants from soil at Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and other hazardous waste facilities.

These guidelines can be helpful in understanding why you need a professional to do the job. If you’re facing the onerous task of taking care of contaminated soil, it’s not likely to be a DIY job.

Contaminated soil can come from anywhere

You may not even know you have contaminated soil on your property. You might order tons of good, clean soil for purchase and have hazardous waste delivered instead. That’s what happened to a couple in Kentucky.

David and Cindy Bell ordered thousands of tons of fill dirt and rock to level their property in preparation for building a garden and campground. They found a company willing to deliver the dirt for free.

Unfortunately, the company delivered contaminated black soil and sand removed from an industrial work site. When tests were run, the soil samples contained excessive levels of certain contaminants, including heavy metals and carcinogens.

how to remove remove contaminated soil

Even though it wasn’t their fault, the state issued the Bells a Notice of Violation that required the couple to install a special fence to prevent the contaminated soil from leaching into the Ohio River.

Test your soil regularly, especially if you grow food

You should test your soil regularly to make sure it’s not hazardous to the Earth, humans, or animals. If you discover you have contaminated soil on your property and there are farms nearby, for example, there’s a chance that farmland can become contaminated and you might be held liable for damages.

If you learn you have contaminated soil, don’t wait to get it cleaned up. Act quickly, because the effects can be far-reaching. Regular testing is the only way to know what’s going on with your soil.