Estimates may vary and debates may ensue but it is still highly probable that one million metric tonnes of asbestos is still present in buildings around the UK. From post war property reconstruction onwards to the mid 1970s, asbestos was widely used as a key insulating and fire retardant in building materials, such as wall board, cement, plaster, wall and ceiling coatings and adhesives, ceiling and vinyl floor tiles.
Tiles were manufactured from a combination of limestone, asbestos, plasticiser, stabiliser, binder and pigment. Quantities of loose asbestos fibres added during the production process would be at least as much as 3 per cent and it’s estimated that at 17 per cent asbestos can be still found in plastic materials, including PVC vinyl asbestos tiles, nylon, polypropylene and polyesters. Many thousands of workers employed in construction, manufacturing and engineering industries were daily exposed to asbestos fibre dust throughout most the twentieth century.
Despite growing asbestos awareness to the serious health risks, asbestos use continued right up until 1985 when the UK Asbestos (Prohibition) Regulations banned the import of the most dangerous forms of asbestos, crocidolite (blue asbestos) and amosite (brown asbestos).
However, it wasn’t until 1999 that chrysotile (white asbestos) was finally banned. But for the tens of thousands of workers it was far too late as the asbestos fibres inhaled between 15 to 50 years earlier had caused the slow development of asbestos-related diseases of asbestosis or the incurable cancer, mesothelioma. Within 4 to 12 months of the appearance of asbestosis symptoms, the victims would have finally succumbed.
As recently as 2008, mesothelioma had claimed 2,249 lives in the UK, and it is estimated that around 20 deaths still occur from asbestos-related diseases every single week. Often, the victim’s spouse or close family member is left to continue working with their asbestosis lawyer in the long process for claiming mesothelioma compensation from former employers or their insurance providers.
Regular news reports refer to building demolition crews uncovering asbestos containing materials (ACMs), such as floor and ceiling tiles made of vinyl, asphalt and rubber, particularly if manufactured before 1980. Although mostly found in former business premises, many kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, staircases or other rooms in homes built or renovated at or before this time are very likely to contain asbestos.
Vinyl tiles were extremely popular for many decades and in wide use. However, asbestos was associated across an entire interior decorating range and fixing process. This means linoleum floor tiles, 9-inch and 12- inch floor tiles, tile adhesive, and tile backing paper.
Asbestos fibres chemically bound to the interior of an ACM tile are not immediately dangerous, and if tiles are found intact and undamaged at home or in workplaces, are not considered hazardous. Tiles can release asbestos fibres if the material has been exposed to heat, water and weathering. Floor and ceiling tiles containing more than 1 percent asbestos may be dangerous if the tiles have become friable, i.e. in a fragile state of disintegration, easily crumbled or reduced to powder if handled.
Generally, avoidance of damage by removal is the recommended course of action when tiles can be safely encapsulated and entirely sealed by acrylic. However, it is always advised to immediately contact a licensed asbestos removal and disposal contractor who will completely seal the affected space before commencing work.