Asbestos - What is it?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral ore of which there are six varieties. Three of these; Crocidolite, Amosite and chrysotile (or blue, brown and white asbestos as they are known) were mainly used in this country.
Colour is not indicative of asbestos type; this may only be determined by laboratory analysis.
Why was it used?
Asbestos has fantastic physical properties; it is fire resistant, a good chemical, electrical and thermal insulator and has high tensile strength. In addition it is inexpensive to produce.
Asbestos was manufactured into a multitude of products: from fire blankets to paper , rope to floor tiles, roof sheets to insulation, decorative textured coatings and paints to reinforced plastics. During wartime it was even used in the filters in gas masks! It was also used in the manufacture of oven gloves, hair dryers and some cigarette filters
When was it used?
It was used throughout the twentieth century with its most prevalent use between 1950 and 1975.
The last piece of banning legislation on the importation ,manufacture and use became law in 1999.
As a result there are thousands of tonnes of asbestos in British buildings – commercial, domestic both public and privately owned.
Why is it potentially dangerous?
Undisturbed asbestos in good condition does not pose a threat to health. However disturbed or damaged material can release microscopic fibres or dust which, if inhaled, can eventually result in fatal cancers. There is a latency period between contact with asbestos fibres and the onset of disease. Typically this is 15 – 35 years or more. There is no known cure for asbestos related cancers. Currently more than three thousand people per annum die from asbestos related illness; this is expected to rise.
Remember asbestos fibres cannot be seen.
Who contracts asbestos related diseases?
Historically people who worked in shipbuilding, railway engineering and industries involving furnaces were more likely than some groups to develop illness. However, as asbestos was commonly used in construction, building trades involved in the orirginal installation of asbestos products are susceptible to illness. In addition, cases of disease in building operatives who have worked on the maintenance and refurbishment of buildings built before 1999, have started coming to light. All such operatives are therefore potentially vulnerable, this includes those involved in DIY..
How do I recognise asbestos products?
To the untrained eye this can be very difficult as many products which contain asbestos are very similar to those which do not.
Since 1976 British, and since 1986 all EU, asbestos products have been labelled. Labels do not always remain on products. Asbestos is accurately identified in a laboratory using special techniques. If you are uncertain about the material content of a product you are intending to disturb or break presume it is asbestos, do not disturb it and seek specialist assistance.
The following are products which are known to have at some time been manufactured with an asbestos content:
1. Cement asbestos (manufactured until 1999)
- Corrugated / flat , roofing / wall panels
- Rainwater goods (down pipes ,guttering etc)
- Water storage tanks.
- Soffits / fascias.
- Some window boards (not timber or plastic)
- Flues and roof terminals
2. Textured coatings (artex , wondertex, pebblecoat etc.)
3. Thermoplastic and PVC floor tiles.
4. Wall / ceiling panels (non cement asbestos)
5. Reinforced roofing / damp proof course felts
6. Reinforced plastics (old w.c. cisterns and toilet goods)
7. Sprayed (insulation) coatings (to ceilings etc)
8. Pipe lagging / boiler lagging
9. Panels in 1950's kitchen unit construction