About Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral made up of microscopic fibres.

It is still mined today in countries such as Russia, India, China and Kazakhstan. In the late 19th century, asbestos became popular because it is incombustible, and because of its resistance to heat, electricity and chemical damage, its sound absorption and tensile strength. It was therefore made into, or added to, many different building materials to take advantage of these properties, such as fire-retardant sprays & coatings, pipe & boiler lagging, boards, cement, ropes & cloths, textured coatings such as ‘Artex’, gaskets, etc. Literally, thousands of different products have had asbestos added to them.

Three main types of asbestos have been used in the UK - Chrysotile, Amosite and Crocidolite (white, brown and blue). But why is it so harmful? Imagine asbestos mineral fibres as microscopic needles. If a person were to breathe those needles in, they would travel far down into the lungs and become lodged in the lung tissue.

These fibres can cause serious diseases which are responsible for over 4000 deaths a year in the UK. There are four main diseases caused by asbestos: mesothelioma (always fatal), lung cancer (almost always fatal), asbestosis (not always fatal but very debilitating) and diffuse pleural thickening (not fatal). Crucially, asbestos related diseases don't generally present until 10 to 50 years after exposure, and HSE figures show that more people die in the UK from the effects of asbestos exposure than die from road traffic accidents.

The use, importation and sale of asbestos was finally banned in the UK in 1999, but this means that any building in the UK constructed prior to November 1999 might contain asbestos.

However buildings constructed after 1992 which came under the CDM Regulations umbrella, should have a health and safety file which should give details of any asbestos containing materials used. However unless the H&S file clearly states that no asbestos products were used it must be presumed that the building is liable to contain asbestos materials.