About Asbestos. What is it? Where is it? What to do with it. Phone: 01256 703929 Email: email@example.com
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral silicate that has been mined for centuries. It looks like any normal rock or stone, but when it is broken open it in fact is ‘fluffy’, and is made up of millions if tiny fibres. It was known as the ‘miracle mineral’ as it is non-combustible and doesn’t degrade until it is affected by heats of 600-900°C.
Asbestos has been used extensively for thousands of years as it possess several unique qualities; it does not rot, is totally weather proof and, most importantly, it does not burn. This has led to the material being used extensively as a building material until recent years. It was open cast mined in Canada, China, Cyprus, India, Russia and South Africa, but there has never been large scale mining in the UK.
Use of Asbestos can be dated back up to 5,000 years ago, the Ancient Egyptians wrapped their mummies in 100% woven asbestos cloths to protect them, and the Romans used the fibres in their pottery.
There are 3 different types of commonly used hazardous Asbestos:
Crocidolite, or BLUE Asbestos, was first found in 1805 in Canada and banned in the UK in 1985
Amosite, or BROWN Asbestos, was first found in 1907 in South Africa and banned in the UK in 1985
Crysotile, or WHITE Asbestos, was first found in 1850 in Canada and banned in the UK in 1999
The first written account of the hazards of Asbestos fibres was documented in 1897 by a Viennese physician who noted the emaciation and pulmonary problems often associated with exposure to Asbestos, and in 1898 the first female HSE inspector highlighted the dangers and links to bronchial problems.
Many people do not realise the extensive uses of Asbestos over time. White Asbestos was used in Hollywood during the 1950’s as fake snow, and in 1939 in the iconic ‘Wizard of Oz’, the Wicked Witch of the West’s broom catches on fire but is not damaged at all after the fire is put out, due to the fact the broom was made of brown Asbestos.
Blue Asbestos used to be used in cigarette filter tips, and these filters contain 5x the amount of Asbestos that a mask used in the industry is expected to be exposed to.
It was not until the 1960’s that it was discovered that even the smallest of amounts of Asbestos in limited exposure can cause damage, and not just large, prolonged exposure. The first successful personal injury claim relating to Asbestos was in 1967.
A danger to your health
Asbestos can cause serious damage to the lungs if inhaled, the fibres are so fine that they are not caught by the filters in our lungs that are able to remove normal dust and other tiny fragments that could cause damage. These fibres can cause extensive damage to sensitive lung tissue and can lead to diffuse pleural thickening, caused by scarring and hardening of the lungs which can cause lifelong breathing difficulties. Asbestosis is an incredibly debilitating disease and can be fatal. In the worst cases, Asbestos exposure can lead to lung cancer or Mesothelioma, which is almost always fatal.
Mesothelioma can take up to 10 years to take effect, and can be caused by the smallest exposure. There are case of teachers being diagnosed with mesothelioma 20 years after teaching in a classroom that had Asbestos containing materials in the walls, and their only contact with the Asbestos fibres was in pinning and removing children’s work from the walls. Around 20 tradesmen a week die in the UK due to Asbestos related disease.
Asbestos can still be found in any building built or renovated before 1999. It is safe if it remains undamaged, but damage to the material will release Asbestos fibres and create a potential threat to all who come into contact with it.
The Asbestos Prohibition Regulations 1999, extended the prohibition of import, supply and use of ALL asbestos containing products in the UK, but this does not negate the fact that many building in the UK built before this time contain large quantities of Asbestos containing materials.
Where might I find Asbestos in my house or work place?
What do I do if I think I have found Asbestos containing materials?
The removal of high risk asbestos-containing materials (sprayed Asbestos coatings, Asbestos insulation, Asbestos lagging and most work involving Asbestos insulating board (AIB)) should be carried out by a licenced contractor, such as Jeto Limited.
Licenced Asbestos removal work is a significantly hazardous job because it involves higher risk Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). These materials are more likely to release larger quantities of Asbestos fibres when being removed than lower risk materials such as Asbestos cement.
As a result, workers who are employed in removing higher risk ACMs require specific training and should follow specific working practises. Workers should also use sophisticated reparatory protective equipment (RPE) and are legally required to be under regular medical surveillance.
It is because of the hazardous nature of this work that a licence to do it is required from HSE. You can find further information on the HSE licencing process on the HSE website asbestos licencing page.