What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is the term used to describe a group of fibrous minerals that have developed naturally in the Earth. These minerals are grouped into two different types – serpentine and amphibole.
How Do I Recognise Asbestos Containing Materials?
Asbestos can be extremely difficult to recognise, especially when it is mixed with other materials. It is also hard to describe what to look out for; but the HSE image library highlights a number of common asbestos containing materials for you to familiarise yourself with.
What Health Risks Arise From Asbestos Exposure?
Exposure to airborne asbestos particles can cause a number of mild to severe health risks, including:
- Mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the lungs)
- Asbestosis (scarring of the lungs)
- Lung cancer
- Diffuse pleural thickening (a thickening of the membrane surrounding the lungs)
Exposure to asbestos causes over 5,000 deaths every single year. It can take anywhere between 15-60 years for any real symptoms to develop after exposure, so most of these diseases affect victims later in life. You can obtain some more information and advice on the HSE website.
What Materials May Contain Asbestos?
Coming from the amphibole and serpentine mineral family, asbestos can be categorised into 6 different substances, which are:
- Chrysotile (white)
- Amosite (brown)
- Crocidolite (blue)
Only chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite asbestos types have been used commercially in the United Kingdom.
Where in My Property Could I Find Asbestos?
Typically, asbestos can be found in the following areas of your property:
- Garage/shed walls and roofs
- Gutters and rainwater pipes
- Wall and ceiling linings
- Floor tiles
- Insulation panels
- Central heating flues
- Fire blankets
- Bath panels
Before the year 1999, asbestos products were used widely in building materials, including fire protection and insulation materials. Items that may have contained asbestos in past years include:
- Asbestos cement products
- PVC flooring and vinyl floor tiles
- Insulation board
Asbestos is only a risk to health if the fibres become airborne. Therefore, any asbestos containing materials that are in good condition do not represent a significant risk; until they are damaged.
What Should I Do if There is Asbestos in My Property?
If the asbestos is undisturbed and undamaged, you should not need to do anything, provided the location is recorded and there are regular safety and maintenance checks. For complete peace of mind the asbestos can be encapsulated, meaning fibres cannot escape into the air. The other, more obvious option is to remove the material completely. This should strictly only be attempted by a licensed contractor with an asbestos removal licence.
What Should I Do if I Have Been Exposed to Asbestos?
Low level exposure to asbestos is very unlikely to cause diseases later down the line and the risks are considered extremely low. Disease is largely associated with inhaling asbestos fibre/dust; the chances of developing a disease is directly related to the amount of fibres that are inhaled and the length of exposure.
If you think you may have been exposed, you should share your concerns with your doctor almost immediately. However, at such an early stage, a full medical examination or x-ray would not be beneficial, as it takes years for any effects to appear.
What is an Asbestos Survey and Do I Need One?
A professional asbestos survey will help you manage and control the risks of asbestos containing materials in your property. This will provide accurate information on the location, quantity and type of asbestos materials anywhere in your building. This is not a legal requirement, but it is highly recommended that you arrange a survey if you believe your building may contain such materials.
An asbestos survey will supply enough information for an asbestos register, an effective management plan and a risk assessment report. The process will typically involve taking a sample for analysis and this should only be actioned by a competent asbestos surveyor.
Where Will I Find Guidance/Publications on Asbestos?
There are many publications and pieces of information on asbestos available for free on the HSE website.