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Asbestos - What is it?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral ore which was extensively mined throughout the world in countries such as Australia, Canada, South Africa and Russia. There are six varieties recognized by legislation in the UK. The main ones are; Amosite (known as Brown asbestos), Crocidolite (known as Blue asbestos) and Chrysotile (known as White asbestos) these are the ones were mainly used in this country. Colour is not indicative of asbestos type; this can only be determined by specialist laboratory analysis.

Over the years the use of asbestos in the UK has become increasing more regulated by law with the importation, manufacture and use of asbestos in products for any purpose being finally banned in the UK in 1999. The latest set of regulations which cover all aspects of asbestos in the UK are the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and the enforcing authority is the Health & Safety Executive.

All work on Asbestos Containing Materials should only be undertaken by properly trained and licensed trade’s people.

When was it used?

In the UK it was used extensively throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century’s with its most prevalent use in the construction industry between 1950 and 1975. As a result of this there are thousands of tonnes of asbestos still left in British buildings – commercial, domestic both public and privately owned.

Why was it used?

Asbestos has many fantastic physical properties; it is fire resistant, a good chemical, electrical and thermal insulator and has high tensile strength. 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. Because of this great flexibly and the ease at which it could be processed it was described as a “Wonder material”, in addition it is very inexpensive to produce. It is widely accepted that over 5000 different products have been manufactured from asbestos.

Why is it potentially dangerous?

Left 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 Asbestos Related Diseases. The period between contact or exposure to asbestos fibres and the onset of disease (latency period) can be up to 60 years, although typically this is between 15 – 35 years. There is no known cure for Asbestos Related Diseases some of which are fatal. Currently more than four thousand people per annum die from asbestos related illness; this figure is expected to rise over the next five years.

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 these illnesses. However, as asbestos was commonly used in construction, building trades involved in the original installation of asbestos products are susceptible to illness.

In addition, cases of disease in building operatives and other trades people 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 recognize asbestos products?

This is very difficult to the untrained eye as many products which contain asbestos are very similar to those which do not. The only way that you can accurately identify if a material does contain asbestos is by having it analysed at a specialist laboratory.

Since 1976 British and since 1986 all EU countries, asbestos products have been labelled. Labels do not always remain on products. 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.

If you require any further information, please contact the Councils Asbestos Team at AsbestosTeam.cbc@northnorthants.gov.uk


Last updated: Thursday 3rd February 2022 12:48:05 PM
Review date: Wednesday 8th June 2022 12:46:59 PM