Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fibre used as a binder to provide rigidity for other materials such as cement. It is also fire resistant and was therefore was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance.
Asbestos comes in several different types some of which are more dangerous than others however all types of asbestos are considered dangerous if the fibres are inhaled, as they can cause lung cancers. The risk of cancer increases with the number of fibres inhaled. The symptoms of these diseases do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos. Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos, as we all are in our daily lives, do not develop these health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos containing material may release asbestos fibres, which can be inhaled into the lungs. Asbestos material that would crumble easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder, is more likely to create a health hazard. Fibre release is therefore most likely if for example, asbestos containing material is drilled into or sanded inadvertently releasing the fibres into the atmosphere.
If the asbestos material is in good shape and will not be disturbed, do nothing. 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, furnace, 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.
For further information visit the Health and Safety Executive website at: www.hse.gov.uk
Because asbestos was used so extensively in buildings, the date of construction can be used to identify those properties that have a higher chance of containing ACM's. This approach must be applied with caution because: Some asbestos products were used well after they were discontinued or banned; Refurbishments, alterations or repairs may have introduced ACM's into older buildings that may have been judged less likely to contain asbestos.
The general rule is to always leave asbestos alone, it's
usually safe unless it's damaged or disturbed.
Do not use pressure washers or wire brushes to clean asbestos cement products as this will release fibres. It is best not to disturb this material at all. Paint indoor materials with an alkali resistant paint such as PVA emulsion, and never sand, drill or saw asbestos materials.
Always seek advice before thinking of removing asbestos and follow the basic rules below if carrying out asbestos cement removal work, which is really the only type of asbestos material you can with suitable precautions safely remove yourself.
Do not attempt to remove asbestos lagging, spray coatings or large areas of Insulation Board by yourself as these materials can only be safely removed by a licensed contractor. Sometimes it will be necessary for someone with suitable expertise to take a sample, for example to identify the type of asbestos.
Asbestos cement is the commonest asbestos material you will come across in the form of flat or corrugated panels often used for garages, sheds and guttering. It can be safely removed by remembering these basic rules:-
Asbestos has been subject to gradual and voluntary formal bans since 1969. It is only since 1999 that the importation, supply and use of all forms of ACM's have been banned. Blue and brown asbestos were banned in 1985; white asbestos banned in 1999. Sprayed asbestos ceased in 1974. Asbestos reinforced insulation boards were phased out in 1980.
Houses built since mid-1980s are unlikely to contain asbestos in the fabric, but may contain some white asbestos in cement products on the roof, etc.
Houses built after 1990 are very unlikely to contain any asbestos. Asbestos was last added to Artex (textured paint) on 1 August 1984 but non-asbestos versions were available from mid-70s.
Asbestos was used in insulating board until 1980 when manufacture ceased.
Asbestos in bitumen products and floor tiles was used until 1992.
Electric storage radiators - few post 1975 had any asbestos in them. Pre 1975 should be considered as likely to contain ACM's.
ACM's are very common in non-traditional housing of all types