Health & Safety

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Asbestos: Hidden Health Hazard in Homes

20 June 2011

Asbestos was used extensively as a building material in Great Britain from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s, so houses and flats built or refurbished at this time include Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs).

asbestos warning sign

Asbestos is a natural mineral made up of many small fibres. Asbestos fibres are strong and resistant to heat and chemicals. This led to the use of Asbestos in a wide range of building materials and products, often as fireproofing.

There are three main types

  • Blue Asbestos (Crocidolite)
  • Brown Asbestos (Amosite)
  • White Asbestos (Chrysotile)

Properties built since the mid-1980s are very unlikely to contain Asbestos in the fabric of the building and it was finally banned in 1999. Few people realise that ACMs which could be lethal if disturbed are present in about half of all residential property.

It is not always easy to tell whether a product contains Asbestos as modern Asbestos-free materials often look similar - remember it is usually older products that contain Asbestos.

Asbestos is likely to be dangerous only if it is released into the air and you breathe it in. Then you could be at long-term risk of developing lung cancer, Asbestosis or mesothelioma (a cancer that forms in the lining of the chest or abdomen). The symptoms of these diseases often do not appear for between 20 and 30 years after exposure to Asbestos.

As a general rule Asbestos materials in good condition that cannot readily be damaged are often best left where they are because removal can lead to higher levels of fibres in the air, but it must be regularly checked for signs of deterioration.

Areas in your home where you may find Asbestos include:

  • fire blankets
  • central heating flues
  • garage and shed roofs
  • floor tiles, ceiling tiles
  • linings for walls, ceilings and doors
  • insulation panels in some storage heaters
  • lagging on pipes (unlikely on modern houses)
  • bath panels, infill panels and partitions
  • eaves, gutters, rainwater fall pipes, cold water tanks
  • loose Asbestos packing between floors and in partition walls
  • textured plasters, ARTEX on walls and ceilings (2% - 5%)
  • Sprayed Asbestos used for protecting structural steelwork and for insulation in steel framed houses built before the mid-1970s.

It is difficult to establish how much Asbestos is present in a home without employing a specialist to undertake a full inspection. Samples need to be taken for analysis at a laboratory approved by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service.

What to do if you think you have Asbestos in your home

It is very hard to identify Asbestos, but if you suspect that you are living with Asbestos:

  • don't panic unless Asbestos is damaged or disturbed, it is safe to leave it in place
  • never sand, drill or saw Asbestos materials
  • always seek professional advice before thinking of removing Asbestos materials
  • do not attempt to remove Asbestos lagging, spray coatings or insulation board by yourself
  • these materials can only be safely removed by a contractor, licensed by the Health and Safety Executive
  • sometimes it will be necessary to take a sample, for example to identify the type of Asbestos
  • you should only employ a suitably trained person to sample or do a survey of the premises
  • Find out about Asbestos removal from your local council

Check the condition of Asbestos materials from time to time to make sure they have not become damaged or started to deteriorate. If home improvements, refurbishments, alterations or maintenance are planned and there is Asbestos in the home, builders, maintenance workers or contractors must be informed before they start work.

  • Asbestos materials that are slightly damaged can sometimes be repaired by sealing or enclosing the material
  • SEEK ADVICE on the most appropriate action
  • Asbestos materials that are badly damaged or deteriorating can release dust and should be removed by contractors with a special license issued by the HSE under the Control of Asbestos Regulations to ensure Asbestos is safely. The Local Authority (Council) Environmental Health Officer should be able to provide advice on Asbestos removal and licensed contractors.<.li>

Remember:

  • Asbestos-containing products can look very similar to those not containing Asbestos - if in doubt SEEK ADVICE
  • Avoid creating Asbestos dust
  • Avoid breathing Asbestos dust
  • Avoid disturbing or damaging Asbestos materials in good condition
  • Asbestos material in good condition and not at risk of damage should be left alone
  • If you have damaged or deteriorating Asbestos materials in the home then SEEK ADVICE
  • Asbestos material in bad condition should only be removed by HSE contractors with a special license
  • If you think you may have Asbestos-containing products in your house, SEEK ADVICE from the Local Authority/Council or Licenced Specialist before you take any action