What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fibre, there are several types of asbestos fibres and they are normally identified in materials by means of very specific sampling and laboratory testing techniques.
Asbestos was widely used within the construction industry and added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation, chemical resistance and in some cases used as an acoustic barrier.
How can asbestos affect my health?
Asbestos related diseases are responsible for the greatest number of work related deaths in the United Kingdom. From studies of people who were exposed to asbestos we know that breathing asbestos fibres can lead to an increased risk of:
Mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity; and
Asbestosis, in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.
The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma increases with the number of fibres inhaled, with the risk of developing lung cancer from inhaling asbestos fibres significantly increased if you smoke.
People who suffer from asbestos related diseases have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos over a significant period of time, with the period of time between exposure and contracting a disease anywhere between 20 and 40 years.
Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos do not develop these health problems, however asbestos materials that are disturbed or broken may release asbestos fibres which can be inhaled into the lungs. Theses fibres can remain there for a long time, increasing the risk of disease. Asbestos materials that crumble easily when handled or that have been sawn, drilled, scraped, or sanded into a powder, are more likely to create a health hazard.
Where can I find asbestos and when can it be a problem?
The importation and sale of materials containing asbestos was finally banned in 1999, however asbestos was widely used as building and insulation material until the mid 1980’s with many types of building products used in homes and commercial premises containing asbestos.
Common products that might contain asbestos which may enable the material to release fibres, include:
Pipes, boilers, and heating systems: Insulated with an asbestos blanket, asbestos paper or asbestos insulation products. These materials may release asbestos fibres if damaged, repaired, or removed improperly.
Soundproofing or Coating material sprayed on walls and ceilings. Loose, crumbly, or water–damaged material may release fibres. So will sanding, drilling, or scraping the material.
Insulating Board Materials. Used to form wall panels, ceiling tiles, firebreaks etc. Loose, crumbly, or water–damaged material may release fibres. So will sanding, drilling, or scraping the material.
Cement sheet, millboard and paper used as insulation around heating systems and as wall panels. Repairing or removing appliances may release asbestos fibres. So may cutting, tearing, sanding, drilling or sawing insulation.
Thermoplastic floor tiles (vinyl asbestos, asphalt, and rubber), the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and adhesives used for installing floor tiles. Sanding tiles can release fibres. So may scraping or sanding the backing of sheet flooring during removal.
Door gaskets in heating systems, wood stoves, and coal stoves. Worn seals can release asbestos fibres during use.
Asbestos cement roofing. These products are not likely to release asbestos fibres unless in a poor and degraded condition, sawed, drilled, or cut.
Textured Decorative Finishes such as ARTEX, patching and joint compounds for walls and ceilings. Sanding, scraping, or drilling these surfaces may release asbestos.
Other older household products such as fireproof gloves, stove–top pads, ironing board covers, and certain hairdryers, vehicle brake pads and linings, clutch facings, and gaskets.
What should be done about asbestos in my premises?
If you think asbestos may be in your home, the key message is not to worry, if the asbestos material is in good condition it is normally safe to leave it where it is.
Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos fibres and there is no danger unless fibres are released and inhaled into the lungs.
Check the material regularly if you suspect it may contain asbestos. Don't touch it, but look for signs of wear or damage such as tears, abrasions, or water damage. Damaged material may release asbestos fibres. This is particularly true if you disturb it by hitting, rubbing, or handling it, or if it is exposed to extreme vibration.
Sometimes, the best way to deal with slightly damaged material is to limit access to the area and not touch or disturb it. Always consult with a asbestos removal specialist if you believe you need to remove or dispose of asbestos materials or check with your local environmental health department, or other appropriate bodies to find out proper handling and disposal procedures.
If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by a professional contractor will be needed. Before you have your house remodelled, find out whether asbestos materials are present by having an asbestos survey carried out, our recommendation is that this survey should be conducted by a UKAS certificated consultancy.
How to identify materials that contains asbestos?
The simple answer is… You can’t tell just by looking at it. If in doubt, treat the material as if it contains asbestos or have it sampled and analysed by a qualified professional, this on the basis that someone who has received the appropriate training knows what to look for, and knows how to take the sample without increasing the risk of disturbing the material and unnecessarily releasing asbestos fibres
Poor sampling techniques can be more hazardous than leaving the material alone, therefore we do not recommend taking samples yourself.
Asbestos do's and don’ts...
- Do take every precaution to avoid damaging asbestos material.
- Do have removal and major repair done by people trained and qualified and licensed to work with asbestos. It is highly recommended that sampling and minor repair also be done by trained and competent professionals.
- Never sweep, or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos
- Never saw, sand, scrape, or drill holes in asbestos materials
- Never use abrasive pads or brushes on power strippers to strip wax from asbestos flooring or its backing. Never use a power stripper on a dry floor.
- Never sand or try to level asbestos flooring or its backing
How to manage an asbestos problem.
For non-domestic premises very clear guidance on the responsibilities of duty holders is produced by HSE, If the asbestos material is in good condition and will not be disturbed, you may decide that no action other than routine inspection is necessary, however if it is a problem, there are two types of corrections: repair and removal.
REPAIR usually involves either sealing or covering asbestos material.
Sealing (encapsulation) involves treating the material with a sealant that either binds the asbestos fibres together or coats the material so fibres are not released. Pipe and boiler insulation can sometimes be repaired this way. This should be done only by a professional trained to handle asbestos safely.
Covering (enclosure) involves placing something over or around the material that contains asbestos to prevent release of fibres. Exposed insulated piping may be covered with a protective wrap or jacket.
With any type of repair, the asbestos remains in place. Repair is usually cheaper than removal, but it may make later removal of asbestos, if necessary, more difficult and costly. Repairs can either be major or minor.
Major repairs must only be carried out by a professional trained in methods for safely handling asbestos.
Minor repairs should also be done by a professional since there is always a risk of exposure to fibres when asbestos is disturbed.
Doing minor repairs yourself is not recommended since improper handling of asbestos materials can create a hazard where none previously existed.
REMOVAL is usually the most expensive method this is because removal poses the greatest risk of fibre release. However removal may be required when making changes to your home that will disturb asbestos material. Removal may also be required if asbestos materials are damaged extensively and cannot be otherwise repaired.
Asbestos removal is complex process and must only be undertaken by a licensed contractor, improper removal of asbestos materials may lead to the spread of asbestos contamination and therefore increase the risk to personal safety.
Asbestos professionals: Who are they, and what can they do?
Within the United Kingdom the removal of certain types of asbestos fall within a permissioning regime, this means that the Government Regulators (HSE) licence companies to work with or remove asbestos, this regime sets out the very highest standards expected from those holding a licence, with these companies subject to very close scrutiny from HSE and other regulatory authorities.
As part of their overall competence these companies can conduct inspections, take samples of suspected material, assess its condition, and advise about the best methods for the removal or making safe of the asbestos containing materials that are identified.