What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is the name given to a set of minerals which occur naturally. They are all fibrous (i.e. made up of tiny, microscopic fibres about the same diameter as a human hair) and very strong. They are very versatile, very pliable (allowing them to be shaped easily) and also fire resistant.
When discovered in their 6 forms they filled the gap many industries had been looking for, for years. They have great insulative qualities amongst their many assets but what was not realised until the 1970's, was that they were also carcinogens (capable of causing cancer) which in their loose form are easily breathed in.
The fibres then lodge in the lung tissue and it can be many years before the effects of this are realised. With this in mind, asbestos safety is absolutley paramount when carrying out DIY and home improvement when asbestos is present or even suspected to be present.
Their durability, one of their supposed assets, means they cannot be broken down easily by the body's natural protective systems.
In its hardened form, asbestos is not dangerous. It is only when it is broken and the powdery fibres are released into the air, a condition known as friable, that asbestos becomes dangerous. There are 6 types of asbestos, they are:
- Chrysotile Asbestos - The most common type used in construction; mostly in fire-proofing and insulation
- Amosite Asbestos - The second most common form of asbestos, used in acoustic materials, insulation and also used as an anti condensation material
- Tremolite Asbestos - Found mainly in contaminated deposits of vermiculite
- Crocidolite Asbestos - Known as Blue Asbestos, Crocidolite Asbestos was used as a plastic reinforcement and in some rope lagging such as fire rope
- Anthophyllite Asbestos - Made of iron and magnesium this asbestos was used in cement products and insulating material.
- Actinolite Asbestos - A very rare form of asbestos and pretty much unkown to be used in construction products
Why is Asbestos a Problem?
As with every other material asbestos deteriorates with age. With this deterioration comes a breakdown of the asbestos fibres.
These fibres can be drawn into the lungs through normal breathing. Should they reach a high level they can cause lung diseases and even cancer.
Asbestos occurs naturally as a mineral and has been used widely in a range of building materials to make them more rigid and resistant to fire. It has even been used in gloves, ironing boards and other household items.
The most common places to find asbestos are in roofing sheets of old buildings, outhouses, sheds and barns. Some roof tiles were also made of asbestos as were central heating flues and many gutters and rain water and foul water downpipes.
Some older floor and roof insulation may contain asbestos as might pipe lagging of the older wrap-round type. Modern foam pipe lagging will be asbestos free.
Some asbestos may also be found in some textured coatings such as Artex applied before 1980 but in reality any home or building built before the year 2000 when enforceable legislation was introduced, could contain asbestos.
If you need to remove Artex from within your home this should always be done in a safe manner. With this in mind, we recommend using Eco Solutions X-Tex artex remover mentioned in our removing artex project here.
This is a gel-like substance that retains any asbestos fibres within the gel while you are removing it, preventing them from escaping into the air. You can find out more about staying safe when removing Artex from ceilings by clicking on the link above.
Do not play with it and do not try and cut costs by removing it without the correct personal and environmental protection.
A very unfortunate fact is that Asbestos related diseases kill more people than die on the roads each year! This fact is taken from the Health and Safety Executives website on asbestos which can be found here.
How can I be Exposed to Asbestos?
Asbestos has been used very widely over the years and as such there are probably low levels of asbestos fibres floating around all over the place. This low level exposure is extremely unlikely to cause any damage.
If buildings still contain asbestos then the risk is higher and, if this asbestos has been damaged in any way, the risks are higher still.
When undertaking any building or decorating work that involves rubbing down any surfaces, you should always wear the appropriate safety equipment such as a good quality dust mask, goggles, gloves and overalls.
If you are in any doubt about a material in the building where you work or live you can now have a special DIY asbestos testing kit mailed to you.
Once you receive it, you put a tiny sample of the material you are concerned about into a prepaid envelope and send it to the lab. You will know within 24 hours if your sample contains asbestos or not. You can click on the image above to find out more about the Asbestos Testing kit.
You can also apply for an asbestos inspection, but first you will have to identify the correct department or your local authority to contact. This link will take you to a Local Authority Database where you can find out who to contact.
Your local council will put you onto an outside contractor who will come and assess the situation. You will then have to pay for the asbestos to be removed and taken to a safe disposal site. For more information on this, check out the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association Website here.
If you think you may have found some asbestos, do not panic. There is only danger if the asbestos is damaged and/or disturbed. See our summary at the foot of the page for the procedure to go through if you think you have found asbestos.
There are also links on this page to get local authority help in Ireland, and also for those in Wales, please see the wales.nhs.uk site here and if you are in Scotland, please visit the scotland.shelter.org.uk website here. If you think you have asbestos in your home, do not attempt to remove asbestos until it has been inspected.
Asbestos Rules and Regulations
There has been a huge amount of debate and legislation surrounding the various types of asbestos since it was first identified as being dangerous after a post mortem on a woman who worked in an asbestos textiles factory died.
It became clear the asbestios fibres were dangerous, but still took almost 100 years for successive governments to agree on the legislation required to list all types of asbestos, their dangers and their permissible uses.
The latest Asbestos Regulations came into force in 2012 after a European directive in 2009 said we were not doing enough to keep people safe. Essentially the rules for anyone in a purely domestic situation are thus:
- Asbestos materials in and on your home may be left in place if they are untouched and in good condition. Their condition however must be monitored and they must not be disturbed
- If you want to do any work in a room or any part of a building which may contain asbestos you have a duty to manage the asbestos and protect anyone else in the premises. The understanding of “duty to manage” can be fully gained by clicking on the link but basically it means that as you are the one to find it, you must absolutely identify the material and make sure it is safe for you and others in the area
- There are many further rules which relate to asbestos awareness and safety in both the home and a commercial environment in The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 which can be downloaded from the link
Summary - What to do if you Think you may Have Found Asbestos
- Do not disturb the surface at all
- Check this free handout for the governments asbestos reference cards
- Either obtain a asbestos sample testing kit or consult the Governments Asbestos in the home data-base to find out where to get help. A word of warning here - Going down the Government/local council route will take a minimum of 10 days whereas identifying asbestos with an asbestos sampling kit takes 24 hours
- Check all three of our free downloadable handouts to see whether a license is required to remove the particular type of asbestos you have found. If it is, go to the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association to find a local contractor for removal
- A licence is not required under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007 as long as the asbestos does not cover an area of more than 10 square metres and it is not friable asbestos (see above for definition of friable). The removal must also be performed in less than 1 hour in any period of 7 days
- If you do not need a license, follow the rules in the handouts closely as to what personal protective equipment (PPE) you should use and contact your local council to find out where you should dispose of it
A big thanks to the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) for information and images that went into completing this advice.
Please read all the information in this project and the included handouts if you have found asbestos in your home, are worried about the possibility of asbestos in your home or want to test suspect materials and surfaces for the presence of asbestos and at all times, protect yourself and the surrounding environment using the corect safety equipment and clothing.