Asbestos remains a potential killer six years after it was banned, and experts are calling for safety regulations in Abu Dhabi to be expanded to the rest of the country.
The substance is a known cause of cancer and its fibres can spread through the air when old buildings are demolished.
Once a popular form of insulation, asbestos is either partially or completely banned in 60 countries. The UAE has prohibited its use since 2006, which means the safe removal of the material will remain an issue for years.
"There is still a misunderstanding that asbestos is not a problem in the UAE," said Charles Faulkner, principal asbestos consultant at WSP Environment and Energy, a consultancy in Abu Dhabi.
"Everyone associates the UAE with new buildings and asbestos is viewed as an antiquated and obsolete material."
Dealing with it, he said, "differs from emirate to emirate and from project to project. It has progressed very well in Abu Dhabi."
New health and safety guidelines in Abu Dhabi require that a company must provide documents showing that asbestos has been identified and safely removed from a building before it can be demolished. The assessment and removal can be carried out only by licensed companies.
Mr Faulkner said the rules were comprehensive and should be used as the basis for federal legislation. "Just as this is applied in Abu Dhabi, there could be something of similar quality applied throughout all seven emirates."
Asbestos pipes are still being manufactured and used in Dubai. While the substance is safe if undisturbed, it can release tiny fibres if it wears or breaks down. These particles are easily airborne and so small that, if inhaled, they penetrate deep into the lungs, causing asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. The diseases are almost always fatal.
Asbestos can be a risk to construction workers and anyone in the vicinity of a demolition site.
Mr Faulkner said more should be done to educate the construction industry about the dangers.
Other experts say authorities should focus more on enforcement. "The laws they are bringing in are fine," said Edward Forero of GTS, a company that specialises in demolition and asbestos removal. "The problem is the enforcement side - there is no enforcement agency."
Charles Kinniburgh, managing director of Angus Asbestos Removal, said: "Implementation of the rules is still at the infancy stage. The regulations are not policed very well. If buildings are going to be demolished, who is checking for asbestos and which company is removing it, these checks are very important.
"There are still companies out there who are doing things they should not do."
Engineer Abdulaziz Hussni Zarub, director of the health and safety and environment division of Abu Dhabi Municipality, said the government agency needed two to three more months to roll out the new rules.
"The asbestos programme is not yet implemented fully," he said.
The Abu Dhabi Government has already made provisions for handling asbestos waste through the Centre of Waste Management - Abu Dhabi, he said.
The municipality has also approved 36 contracting companies to work on demolition projects. Since October last year, it has handed out 54 demolition permits, said Mr Zarub. There are about 300 buildings schedued for demolition in Abu Dhabi this year and next.
Municipal authorities in Dubai and Sharjah were not available for comment.