Asbestos is a product of the past; an industrial toxic material from another era which only the likes of shipyard workers, pipe laggers, builders and carpenters from the 1900s need to worry themselves with – right?
Wrong. Although asbestos was legally banned by law in 1999, it takes decades for the effects of exposure to develop; meaning the risk of this once named ‘miracle material’ is more prominent now than ever before. This is not to say we need to create a mass panic, far from it – however there is a few things you need to know.
Asbestos is often seen as a workplace issue with many facts and figures aimed at industrial workers however this post is focussing on what you need to know in order to keep your home and family safe from the potential dangers of asbestos.
What is Asbestos
So, let’s start with the basics, asbestos is a naturally occurring, fibrous material that was a very popular building material up to the late 1990s. It was widely used because it’s strong, flexible and has excellent insulating qualities. There are two types of asbestos, amphibole and serpentine, they are classed by the physical features of the fibres.
Amphibole asbestos has long sharp fibres and is found in crocidolite (blue asbestos) and brown asbestos known as amosite. White asbestos, known as chrysotile, is the only type of serpentine asbestos and is characterised by its long curved fibres.
Where is Asbestos Found?
The most common places asbestos can be found in the home are:
- Roofing felt
- Lagging and Insulation particularly in houses built between 1930s and 1950s
- Loose fill asbestos used to fill the space under floorboards, loft spaces and cavity walls
- Textured paint and patching compounds (the use of this was banned in 1977)
- Asbestos cement used for cement roofs, gutters, downpipes and cladding
- Old fire blankets and heat resistant gloves
- Asbestos composites such as toilet cisterns, bath panels and window sills.
Asbestos and Cancer
With many cancers it’s almost impossible, or at the very least incredibly difficult, to determine the exact cause, however, mesothelioma (a type of lung cancer) is different; in almost every single case the cause is due to exposure of asbestos.
Asbestos acts as a carcinogen, a substance that encourages cancerous changes in cells over time; in the case of asbestos this can be 20 to 50 years or sometimes even longer.
Mesothelioma occurs when the body inhales asbestos fibres, the fibres work themselves deep into the respiratory system and our body’s usual defence mechanisms of clearing alien substances from our lungs are ineffectual against asbestos.
Over the years the fibres aggravate cells in the lungs, ultimately causing cancer. Mesothelioma is an incurable cancer, which is why prevention is so important; for a more in depth look into this type of cancer you can read an article based on a doctor’s battle with the disease here.
If you think you’ve come into contact in your home, or potentially at work, then it’s important to deal with the situation appropriately. There’s everything from legal and health assistance through to emotional support you may need if dealing with an illness like mesothelioma. A specialised helpline, like National Asbestos, are perfect for helping you manage potential illnesses.
What to Do If there’s Asbestos in Your Home
If you think there may be asbestos in your home, the best thing to do is contact professionals who have the knowledge and experience to help you deal with asbestos safely – they should be licenced to work with asbestos under the HSE, and ideally should provide an initial survey as well as options for either removal or management. Sometimes it’s safer to leave asbestos where it is (e.g. if encased in concrete) than it is to disturb it, so professional advice is essential.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to dealing with asbestos is not to disturb it. Asbestos will not usually pose a risk its left undisturbed and undamaged so DIY work is generally off limits as this can unsettle the asbestos and cause the fibres to shift.
Dos and Don’ts
- Do dispose of asbestos properly – utilise a licenced firm
- Don’t create asbestos dust – don’t work on it without proper training
- Do leave asbestos materials alone if they are in a good / safe condition
- Don’t inhale asbestos dust – if dealing with asbestos, wear respiratory equipment
If you do decide to have your asbestos removed from your home you must ensure you find a contractor who holds an asbestos license so you can be sure they know exactly what they’re doing, for an up to date list on current license holders click here.