Asbestos - 20 years on and still a huge risk

Despite being banned 20 years ago, asbestos is still causing huge problems for those who worked with it and people who live and work in properties containing asbestos.

A brief history


When we talk about asbestos, we are actually referring to a group of particles. So asbestos isn’t a one-off standalone material, but instead there are a few different forms of it with the main three being:

  • Blue – Crocidolite
  • Brown – Amosite
  • White – Chrysotile

Asbestos was mined in a number of countries including Russia, Italy and Canada. There are records of it throughout history but it became incredibly popular in the 1950s and 1960s and was used widely in construction methods for various buildings, whether commercial or residential. While it was popular in the middle of the last century, the risks of asbestos were actually noted long before this.

The different types of asbestos weren’t all banned at the same time. Blue and brown were banned in 1985, and white was banned in 1999. When white asbestos was banned, that marked a total ban for the manufacture or supply of asbestos.

While these bans apply to asbestos in the UK and there are similar bans in other countries, they are not worldwide. Canada closed its last asbestos mine in 2012 and banned it in 2018 (with some exceptions) and Russia still mines and exports asbestos.

The long-term impact of asbestos


Before asbestos was completely banned, there were clear links with exposure to asbestos and certain conditions such as cancer. Any asbestos-related disease is slow to progress and therefore it can take years to realise that a person has been affected. This is why over the past few decades the real legacy of asbestos is becoming apparent. One particular condition that is caused by asbestos is mesothelioma, a type of cancer that develops in the lungs. This is so directly linked to asbestos that the number of deaths as a result of mesothelioma help to understand what damage asbestos has done. Over the past 50 years, annual deaths as a result of this condition increased sharply and data indicates that many were due to exposure prior to 1980. Sadly, the number of deaths currently seen each year looks set to remain and it may be a number of years before this figure goes down.

Where can asbestos be found


There are two answers to this question – the first is around where in the UK it is more likely to be found, and the other is where exactly is it found in buildings. Let’s look firstly at the incidence around the UK.

While asbestos was used throughout the UK, the Health and Safety Executive has figures showing that certain areas have a higher number of fatalities (for men and women) as a result of mesothelioma, a type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. These areas include Newham as well as Barking and Dagenham. Looking at the areas with higher rates, they do tend to have a history of manufacturing and industrial buildings which may be the reason.

Moving on to where you might find asbestos in a building, the HSE has excellent images to show where it might be found inside industrial or residential properties. There are certain areas within each that may be more likely to contain asbestos. For example, in an industrial building, it may have used to spray coatings on ceilings, as loose-fill insulation, in ceiling tiles, floor tiles or on the water tank. Within a residential building, it may be found around pipes, in the airing cupboard, in window panels or in the roof.

What do you do if you have a building built before 2000?


If your building, industrial or residential, was built before 2000 then there is a good chance it may contain asbestos. This may seem a bit scary but as long as you don’t disturb it and it is in good condition, then it is likely to not be posing any immediate risk. What you should do with your building depends on a few questions for you:

  • Do you want asbestos removed as soon as possible to ensure there is no risk at all?
  • Are you planning any building works so need to assess for asbestos before starting?
  • Do you suspect there may be asbestos but you aren’t sure?
  • Do you think the asbestos that is in your property may be degrading and therefore dangerous?

Lets look at each of these in turn.

Do you want asbestos removed as soon as possible to ensure there is no risk at all?

If the thought of asbestos in your property makes you nervous or you want to address it before it does degrade or could be disturbed, then it should be removed as soon as you want it to be taken out.

Are you planning any building works so need to assess for asbestos before starting?

Before any building work commences, you should have a survey carried out to ensure that there is no asbestos present. This can involve testing to confirm either the presence of asbestos or that it is not there. Once you know for sure, you can then have the asbestos removed carefully before any renovations or building work takes place. It is vital the asbestos is removed first because if it is disturbed, you cannot guarantee that asbestos particles will be left in place and will not be dispersed or where this will happen.

Do you suspect there may be asbestos but you aren’t sure?

As with the planning building works, if you believe you may have asbestos in your property, you should have a survey and tests carried out. These are not expensive and are invaluable when you consider your health and the health of others who use the property. Furthermore, they may tell you there is minimal asbestos and that it poses a low risk. You won’t know for sure until you have it professionally assessed. If you do have asbestos, removal isn’t your only option – you could have it encapsulated to contain it.

Do you think the asbestos that is in your property may be degrading and therefore dangerous?

If you know you have asbestos in your property and think it is degrading then it is vital you have this assessed and removed as soon as possible. We will come out to remove the asbestos at short notice as we understand the risks involved and so always make it a priority to act quickly in these cases. Should you have a commercial property then you need to consider the health of your team and also your liability. Any delay could be costly for the health of individuals working there and also you may be subject to a lawsuit. Make sure you use a professional to remove your asbestos – we have the appropriate training and licences to handle it carefully, meeting all regulations.

Get in touch

To make sure you are safe in your home or workplace, get your asbestos dealt with today. We provide efficient quotes and asbestos removal or disposal across East Anglia and the South East of England. From Kent to Suffolk and Essex to London, we can help tackle your asbestos as soon as you need it dealt with.

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