What is Asbestos?
Asbestos was one of the most widely used materials in the world right up until the turn of this century. With its insulating and fire proofing properties, well into the late 1990s it could be found in a large number of buildings, from homes and offices to schools and hospitals. It was also used in hundreds of different building materials including ceiling and roof tiles, insulation for piping and even certain spray coatings.
According to some sources there are roughly 3,000 separate products that have some level of asbestos in them. Many of them are common in our own homes.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral consisting of long fibres and belonging to the serpentine or amphibole families. It has been used by man for over 4,500 years and was often referred to by the term ‘magic mineral’. The name comes from the Greek word to mean ‘unquenchable’. Unfortunately, asbestos has been found to be carcinogenic and has been banned from all forms of construction and usage in the UK.
Types of Asbestos
In the UK there are two main types of asbestos, serpentine and amphibole. Chrysotile or white asbestos belongs to the serpentine family while crocidolite (blue) and grunerite (brown) asbestos belong to the amphibole family. Also belonging to the amphibole group are tremolite, actinolite and anthophyllite.
White Asbestos (Chrysotile): This is perhaps the most commonly used asbestos material. It is a magnesium silicate which is soft and flexible and can actually be woven. The fibres are extremely flexible which means they have been used in a variety of products. They are also highly heat and chemical resistant.
Blue Asbestos (Crocidolite): This is a sodium iron silicate and is of a similar structure to Chrysotile but is not as heat resistant though it is very resistant to acid.
Why is Asbestos Dangerous?
In its undamaged state, asbestos poses no threat. The problem comes when a product that contains asbestos is disturbed or damaged. This can cause individual fibres to be released into the air and these can be breathed in by someone standing nearby. The asbestos fibres can break down into smaller ones and find their way into the lining of your lung causing major health problems. Diseases such as cancer caused because of asbestos take decades to show as health problems.
According to the Health and Safety Executive, 5,000 people a year die because of asbestos and 20 trade workers die each week because of past exposure.
It can cause a number of fatal illnesses relating to the lungs:
- Mesothelioma: the lining around the lung is called the pleura and mesothelioma is a form of cancer that is entirely related to this area. It is very difficult to diagnose and once it is found is generally fatal.
- Asbestos Related Lung Cancer: It’s not just mesothelioma that asbestos can cause. Similar to the lung cancer caused by smoking, asbestos is just as lethal.
- Asbestosis: Prolonged exposure to asbestos can cause a scarring on the lung which makes breathing very difficult and can often be fatal.
- Pleural Thickening: If you have had a lot of exposure to asbestos, the lining of lung can end up thickened and swollen which can also cause shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.
Where Can You Find Asbestos?
Asbestos legislation was introduced in 1985 and 1999 but there are still many buildings, those built before 2000 that have some form of asbestos in them. In most circumstances, this is harmless. It’s only when the asbestos is damaged that potential problems can occur. This is also about prolonged exposure to the material which means it tends to effect those who work with asbestos on a regular basis.
- Industrial premises: Asbestos can be found in sprayed coatings, loose fill insulation, ceiling tiles, asbestos insulating boards used for fired doors and panels, cement structures such as chimneys and flues and floor tiles.
- Domestic properties: Asbestos can be found in decorative coatings such as Artex, asbestos insulating boards for partition walls and window panels, vinyl floor tiles, and roofing felt.
Following the 2012 Control of Asbestos Regulations, any non-domestic building such as a factory or an office have a duty of care to manage any asbestos exposure. That includes having a survey done to check if there is asbestos on the premises, making sure that it is not in a deteriorated state and arranging for safe removal if it is.
The Removal of Asbestos
As you might expect the removal of asbestos is covered by strict legislation and this kind of waste disposal service requires careful handling. This includes wearing the appropriate protective gear and making sure also that people working nearby are also kept safe. Disposal of asbestos at an appropriate landfill is also imperative.
Find out more about asbestos removal services.