Important Facts About Asbestos

I often get people coming to me asking about asbestos since it still a very real worry and 1950’s properties are becoming a trend for people to purchase and renovate. I spoke to my good friend Paul Crane at PAC Asbestos Surveys Manchester about the dangers of Asbestos and why you should be worried. Here is what I came away with.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos was used as a building material extensively in Great Britain through the 1950’s and ceased being used in the late 1990’s.

Why is Asbestos Dangerous?

Although I have seen a major effort has been made to eradicate asbestos among homes and workplaces across the UK, there are still millions of building that contain asbestos. This is due to how heavily it was used for over four decades in British construction, affecting any building built before 2000. It kills an average of around 5,000 workers each year, a greater number those killed in car accidents.

As I understand it, Asbestos fibres are released into the air when materials that contain it are disturbed or damaged. When inhaled these fibres can cause serious diseases for anyone who is exposed. These diseases can lay dormant for many years and when the symptoms become present it is too late to treat. This is why it is important to protect yourself now.

From some research I have seen that Asbestos can cause the following fatal and serious diseases (from the HSE website).

Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a cancer which affects the lining of the lungs (pleura) and the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract (peritoneum). It is almost exclusively related to asbestos exposure and by the time it is diagnosed, it is almost always fatal.

Asbestos-related lung cancer

Asbestos-related lung cancer is the same as (looks the same as) lung cancer caused by smoking and other causes. It is estimated that there is around one lung cancer for every mesothelioma death.

Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a serious scarring condition of the lung that normally occurs after heavy exposure to asbestos over many years. This condition can cause progressive shortness of breath, and in severe cases can be fatal.

Pleural thickening

Pleural thickening is generally a problem that happens after heavy asbestos exposure. The lining of the lung (pleura) thickens and swells. If this gets worse, the lung itself can be squeezed, and can cause shortness of breath and discomfort in the chest.

Where can you find Asbestos?

I know all too well that Asbestos can be found in any building, from industrial to residential, that was built or refurbished before the year 2000. It was a common material used in the building trade that you may come across in your home or workplace. The below diagrams show where it is most commonly found (from the HSE website).

Inside

1. Sprayed coatings on ceilings, walls, beams and columns

2. Asbestos cement water tank

3. Loose fill insulation

4. Lagging on boilers and pipes

5. AIB ceiling tiles

6. Toilet seat and cistern

7. AIB partition walls

8. AIB panels in fire doors

9. Asbestos rope seals, gaskets and paper

10. Vinyl floor tiles

11. AIB around boilers

12. Textiles eg fire blankets

13. Textured decorating coatings on walls and ceilings eg artex

Outside

14. Asbestos cement roof

15. Asbestos cement panels

16. Asbestos cement gutters and downpipes

17. Soffits – AIB or asbestos cement

18. Asbestos cement flue

AIB = Asbestos Insulating Board

Inside

A. Asbestos cement Water tank

B. Pipe lagging

C. Loose fill insulation

D. Textured decorative coating eg artex

E. AIB ceiling tiles

F. AIB bath panel

G. Toilet seat and cistern

H. AIB behind fuse box

I. AIB airing cupboard and/or sprayed insulation coating boiler

J. AIB partition wall

K. AIB interior window panel

L. AIB around boiler

M. Vinyl floor tiles

N. AIB behind fire

Outside

O. Gutters and Asbestos cement downpipes

P. Soffits – AIB or asbestos cement

Q. AIB exterior window panel

R. Asbestos cement roof

S. Asbestos cement panels

T. Roofing felt

AIB = Asbestos Insulating Board

Am I at Risk?

Most of us won’t be at risk but any workers who are involved in refurbishment, maintenance and other similar trades, could be at risk of exposure to asbestos during their work. The following list is not exhaustive (from the HSE website).

  • Heating and ventilation engineers
  • Demolition workers
  • Carpenters and joiners
  • Plumbers
  • Roofing contractors
  • Painters and decorators
  • Plasterers
  • Construction workers
  • Fire and burglar alarm installers
  • Shop fitters
  • Gas fitters
  • Computer and data installers
  • General maintenance staff eg caretakers
  • Telecommunications engineers
  • Architects, building surveyors, and other such professionals
  • Cable layers
  • Electricians

When am I at risk?

  • The building you are working on was built before the year 2000
  • You are working on an unfamiliar site
  • Asbestos-containing materials were not identified before the job was started
  • Asbestos-containing materials were identified but this information was not passed on by the people in charge to the people doing the work
  • You haven’t done a risk assessment
  • You don’t know how to recognise and work safely with asbestos
  • You have not had appropriate information, instruction and training
  • You know how to work safely with asbestos, but you choose to put yourself at risk by not following proper precautions, perhaps to save time or because no one else is following proper procedures

Remember

  • You can’t see or smell asbestos fibres in the air
  • The effects of being exposed to asbestos take many years to show up – avoid breathing it in now
  • People who smoke and are also exposed to asbestos fibres are at a much greater risk of developing lung cancer
  • Asbestos is only a danger when fibres are made airborne and breathed in
  • As long as the asbestos is in good condition and it is located somewhere where it can’t be easily damaged then it shouldn’t be a risk to you