Assure 360

As you’ll no doubt know, mid-September brought the annual Contamination and Geotech Expo to the Birmingham NEC. Of the event’s four ‘themes’, its Hazardous Materials area focuses on contaminants and the protection of the environment – it’s one of the leading asbestos events on the calendar.

But increasingly I find myself rather conflicted when I talk about the Expo. I think it’s perhaps because I represent both sides of our industry. On the one hand, I’m a techy policy consultant, with a slightly embarrassing passion for exposure monitoring. On the other, I’m very much concerned with the nuts and bolts of asbestos removal.

The asbestos industry is not an ivory tower – it is a very practical application of science. Obviously, it must constantly change and improve as the demands grow and the technology gets better. But while the science of finding and monitoring asbestos is critical at major events, we mustn’t overlook the needs of licensed asbestos removal contractors (LARCs). Yet LARCs have been poorly served over the years by industry events, and the Expo was an exciting breath of fresh air in that respect. Unfortunately the Contamination Expo is not what it once was.

Cement and sharing

As I say – I am quite conflicted, because on the day I went this year there were some great talks. The first one I attended was on asbestos cement. Dr Yvonne Waterman spoke brilliantly about a new Dutch report that will highlight the slightly ignored danger around the material. Expect more detail on this theme at November’s EAF conference.

In the afternoon we heard some exciting developments relating to the sharing of asbestos register information. Andrew Paten, Andy Brown and Robin Bennett spoke about OpenAsbestos, a new open source interface that links asbestos registers like Tracker and the UK National Asbestos Register (UKNAR) with portals that need the information – like UKNAR’s Asbestos Smart.

Just the very fact that a single open source portal now exists is fantastic – it’s a huge step towards everyone being able to get asbestos information when they need it. But further exciting news was announced. Along with the Tracker and UKNAR, Teams is apparently also aiming to become compatible with OpenAsbestos, and Lucion is now also looking into it. The fact that the three big players in the industry are prepared to set aside their commercial differences for the greater good should give hope to us all.

The changing Expo

Assure360 has been attending the Contamination Expo since its inception back in 2016. In the early years, it was held at the Excel in London and it was very much targeted at the whole industry: it covered analysis and surveys alongside removal. LARCs exhibited as well as equipment manufacturers from the UK and across Europe.

Our stand was opposite ACAD’s, and just down the aisle from ARCA. We were next to a fantastic French manufacturer – CNSE – who had brought a decontamination unit over. At the time it really put the ones on offer here in the shade – though it was expensive, as I understand it. There were talks on a wide range of issues directed at consultants, but also LARCs. It was a well rounded and very exciting couple of days.

I’ve been unsure about the Expo’s direction of travel for the last couple of years – and Covid can hardly have helped – but fast forward to last week’s Expo and it has changed markedly. The floor area devoted to the asbestos industry was much smaller than previous years. Gone were most of the LARC-focused manufacturers – the last one standing was Thermac.

ACAD and ARCA were still there, of course, but all of the other stands were consultancies, and new technology for consultancies. That’s fantastic for me if I’m wearing my techy, policy consultant hat, but it offered almost nothing for LARCs. The few that did show up must have asked themselves: “Is there anything here for me?” The answer was: “Not a great deal.”

There was and is a vital place for a good event that showcases and promotes innovation and best practice in our industry (all of our industry). However, unless the Contamination Expo does something dramatic to arrest its drift, it will just be a show for the consultants and policy wonks like me, and that’ll be a great shame.

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