Asbestos is responsible for over 5,000 deaths every year and a single exposure can be lethal so its essential to take any sign of asbestos seriously and to immediately contact an expert rather than attempting to contain or remove the substance yourself.
How to spot asbestos
Asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999, so if you’re working with materials installed in or after the year 2000 you should be safe. However, estimates suggest that asbestos is present in around half of British homes. It was widely used as a fire resistant material in tiles, bricks, flooring, roofing, insulation, pipe lagging, and even wallpapers, clothes and furniture during the 1800s and 1900s, with use tailing off towards the end of the 20th century. Asbestos is typically contained within a product and can be hard to spot. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a gallery of images providing more information on spotting asbestos.
Why is asbestos so harmful?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral which has been in use for thousands of years so why is it now so dangerous? The answer is down to the structure of the mineral crystals and the way it interacts with human lungs. Asbestos can easily flake or chip when damaged, creating dust-like particles which have no smell and often can’t be seen so are commonly inhaled. Once in the lungs, the particle can cause a reaction from the surrounding tissue which can lead to problems breathing, scarring in the lungs, cancer and death. Part of the problem is that symptoms can take decades to appear, which means that exposure today could result in an illness or cancer in 10 or more years time.
How to remove asbestos
The good news is that asbestos is only harmful if inhaled, which means that if your roof tiles, flooring or cement contain asbestos, then you’ll be fine as long as the items aren’t broken or damaged. Should you spot damage, want to renovate your property or make changes or repairs, you’ll need to hire a licensed professional to remove the asbestos affected materials. This is an essential step and, in most cases, is mandated by law. If you are having work done in your home, and your contractor discovers asbestos, they should contain the area as much as possible, shut down the site and call in a licensed professional. Your duty, and that of anyone you employ, is to take every reasonable precaution when dealing with asbestos to prevent a potentially fatal exposure.
Find out more about asbestos and how to handle it
This article is only a brief introduction to dealing with asbestos. For more information, it’s best to contact a professional asbestos removal expert in your area. Alternatively, you can find general and specific information on the government’s health and safety site.