Asbestos was widely used in building houses and other properties. It was used to insulate buildings and offered good fire protection. When disturbed or damaged, asbestos can cause serious health problems and may need to be removed. Asbestos should always be handled carefully by a qualified person.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with many small, long and thin fibres. Mining of asbestos occurred for thousands of years before the material became widely used in building constructing at the end of the nineteenth century. Asbestos provided good and affordable insulation and sound absorption, as well as good resistance from fire. The three main types of asbestos include crocidolite (blue), amosite (brown) and chrysotile (white).
When asbestos is in good condition, asbestos poses a low risk to people in most circumstances. Asbestos can be very harmful when dust with the fibres is breathed in by a person, especially when the material is disturbed or damaged. Fibres stick to tissue in the chest, including the lungs. The more frequently asbestos fibres are inhaled, the greater the risk. Heath problems that can result from asbestos include lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.
The use of asbestos has been restricted and banned around the world due to its harmful effects on people. Blue and brown asbestos were banned in the UK in 1985. Restrictions on the sale, import and reuse of asbestos were extended to white asbestos in 1999.
Homeowners are also responsible for asbestos in their homes. If a homeowner is aware of asbestos in their property, builders and contractors must be informed before any work is carried out. Builders, contractors and others can be exposed to harmful asbestos fibres if they disturb the material when sanding, cutting or engaging in any other activity.
Asbestos might be found in cement used for flooring or walls and roofs, especially in garages. Cement asbestos may also be found in molded tanks, guttering, pipes, decking and roof tiles. Asbestos was also used for insulating boards, floor tiles, cushion flooring, roofing felts and textures plasters. Certain heating systems may have also used asbestos insulation. Older oven gloves, fire blankets, ironing boards, ovens, heaters, boilers and other domestic equipment may also have asbestos.
Anyone who controls non-residential buildings has various legal requirements related to managing asbestos. Owners of non-domestic buildings such as office buildings, warehouses and factories have a duty to manage asbestos in their properties under the Control of Asbestos Regulations. Owners of these types of buildings must determine if asbestos is present and ensure that the material does not degrade or deteriorate. If necessary, owners must also remove the asbestos when it poses a health risk. Employers must also provide annual training to any employees who may come into contact with asbestos.
Finding an Asbestos Contractor
In most cases, if asbestos is in good condition it will likely not cause any problems. If the asbestos is not damaged or will likely not sustain damage, leave it in place. Asbestos can be safely painted to prevent dust from escaping with emulsion paint for insulating boards and alkali-resistant primer or coating for cement products. Never rub down asbestos material before painting. Repairs or removal must be considered if the surface is damaged or scratched, any sealant is peeling or breaking, the material is becoming detached, or there is asbestos dust or debris.
Asbestos can be resealed, repaired or enclosed, as well as removed by a specialist. A licenced asbestos contractor should be used when dealing with asbestos that has been sprayed, asbestos lagging or asbestos insulating boards in a home. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) maintains a list of licenced contractors who can legally undertake work related to asbestos removal and repairs.
Getting More Information
For more information about asbestos and removing it from your home, contact a local council or planning authority. Some local councils provide property owners with advice on carrying out risk assessments for asbestos, while others may also assist with the removal and disposal of the material. Certain council may also require notification of any work involving asbestos. The HSE also provides additional guidance on handling asbestos.