What is asbestos and why is it dangerous?
Asbestos is a natural mineral composed of thin, tightly packed fibres, once commonly used for insulation, fireproofing and decorative purposes, mainly around water tanks, pipe lagging, decorative coatings (Artex in particular) and boilers. Unfortunately, when cut, drilled, damaged or disturbed through either wear and tear or refurbishment works, airborne fibres can easily be inhaled, leaving anyone in close proximity susceptible to long term lung related diseases.
Is asbestos still used today in the construction industry?
No. Asbestos was banned for use in domestic properties in 1989. It is still possible to find asbestos present in properties built before this era and due care should therefore be taken when considering refurbishment works.
What should I bear in mind when checking for asbestos?
Firstly, it would be helpful to determine the age of your property. Any home built after 1989 is unlikely to contain asbestos materials as Environmental Protection Agency regulations came into force banning its future use. Asbestos materials are likely to be present in properties built between 1920 and 1989 and commonly found in decorative ceilings, fireproofing, insulation, pipe lagging and boilers. It is difficult to detect, however, since its fibres are invisible, do not create any odour and only become hazardous to health when damaged or disturbed and exposed to the air.
Any asbestos containing product which has been installed since 1976 is legally bound to display a warning label.
If you are considering purchasing an older home, building survey legislation requires a comprehensive survey to be carried out with a full report. If any asbestos is detected, the report will also include instructions for its removal with safety advice.
Can I check for asbestos myself and what should I be looking for?
You won’t be able to tell if an item contains asbestos purely by its appearance, but it is wise to regularly check whether any older construction materials are degrading, or are worn and damaged. In particular, look for cracks, dusty areas and indication of material breakdowns in pipes, insulation, walls, tiles or any other materials which have been present in the premises since its construction.
When does asbestos need to be removed?
Any asbestos in your home which has been damaged or is likely to be disturbed through renovations, will need to be removed. Undisturbed asbestos is perfectly safe and while it is best left untouched, it would be wise to consult a reputable, licenced removal expert for advice.
How can asbestos be removed?
Never try to remove or tamper with asbestos materials yourself. This is a specialised task requiring equipment and disposal methods which comply with health and safety legislation. ARCA, the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association, offer guidance and an index of all licenced asbestos removal contractors in the UK from their website. Additionally, the Environmental Health department of your local authority will be able to provide contact details for local asbestos removal contractors. These can also be sourced through the Internet and local press advertisements.
Professional contractors will seal off the area, inform you of the isolation periods and dispose of the material safely and legally. If any removed asbestos materials were previously used for fireproofing, it is unacceptable to leave your property without this form of protection and therefore alternatives should be installed.
Important points to remember…
Asbestos is only likely to be present in homes built before 1999.
Any asbestos detected will not be hazardous to health whilst left in situ.
Do not attempt to remove asbestos yourself – you will be risking your health and that of those around you. Furthermore it is a legal requirement for asbestos to be safely disposed of. Always consult a licenced asbestos removal contractor if you believe that any asbestos materials have been damaged or require removal.