The long-term effects of contaminated land in war zones

Mike Ayling 2022

Mike Ayling
Consultancy Services Manager, Assurity Consulting
15th December 2023

In most scenarios this is comparatively easy to manage, until there is a catastrophic failure which could be due to a flood, hurricane, earthquake, or even a war.

Wars often lead to the destruction of the landscape, and with this the potential for carcinogenic materials, such as asbestos, being released into the rubble and atmosphere leading to widespread contamination. One such area is the Ukraine, where 70% of the buildings contain asbestos and unfortunately many have been reduced to rubble and no doubt the release of fibres containing asbestos (not to mention the chemicals from weapons) entering the air or soil.

The Ukraine is trying to proactively recycle the rubble by taking out large asbestos containing materials at source (e.g. roofing materials) before the rest of the building is demolished. But with the legal limit of asbestos in waste ten times higher than EU regulations, the longer-term effect of this contamination could be significant.

In the UK, asbestos was banned in 1999, in the Ukraine it was banned in 2022 (officially passed in October 2023). Large efforts to ban began in 2011, but this was met with major opposition from major exporters of asbestos - Russia and Kazakhstan, who exported asbestos to all the former soviet states and many South Eastern Europe and middle eastern countries.

There is very little data on asbestos related diseases in these areas, but by comparison, it is estimated to have caused approximately 5,000 deaths in the UK and 72,000 across the EU Nations in 2019. With bans on asbestos in other war-torn areas varying, Iraq 2016, Israel 2011, North Macedonia 2014, Moldova 2016 and Serbia 2011, surely it will be only a matter of time before these diseases become more prevalent in these areas.