The use of asbestos material in manufactured products as well as in engineering, shipbuilding, railway and vehicle components, spread far and wide throughout the peak years of the twentieth century, which only gradually abated by the late 1970s and 80s.

Building and construction using the less toxic but still dangerous chrysotile white asbestos insulating boards, cements, coatings, tiles and lagging often continued for at least another ten years until full prohibition in 1999.

Consequently, asbestos can still be discovered in the most unexpected of places, serving as a warning that asbestos awareness and complacency to the dangers of the deadly material cannot be underestimated. Consistently, news is reported of white asbestos still being found when renovations or demolition begin in buildings from textile factories, industrial plants and engineering works to schools, hospitals, restaurants, retail stores and medical laboratories.

Recently, instances of individuals who contracted the incurable asbestos cancer, mesothelioma, occurred as result of working in a retail store as an employee and regularly being exposed to the dangers of breathing in the fatal asbestos fibres or being involved in the removal of asbestos during renovations. Even one of the UK’s biggest retailers, Marks & Spencer, was prosecuted along with two contractor firms by the Health & Safety Executive(HSE) for failing to conform to the required regulatory removal procedure when asbestos was found during a shop refurbishment.

More unexpectedly, a retired chef was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in 2008 after years of working in close proximity to a restaurant oven whose doors were lined with asbestos seals.

The long gestation period between the original time period when the asbestos fibres are inhaled and the appearance of mesothlioma or asbestosis symptoms, such as a pleural effusion, can be between 15 to 50 years. Failure to spot the disease in the early stages can mean a prognosis as short as 4 to 12 or 18 months, and often leaving the spouse or a family member, together with their asbestosis lawyer, to continue with a mesothelioma claim.

It cannot be assumed that any particular building or sector is safe from the presence of asbestos material. In university laboratories or industrial premises and other environments where fume hoods provide ventilation to filter, chemical fumes, hazardous gases and vapours from the air, asbestos cement was used throughout the twentieth century as heat resistant linings and shelving. Some types of fume hoods not only filter chemicals from the air but will also release the purified air back into the same room.

Contrary to theories regarding ‘low level’ risk, which may be attributable to items such as asbestos-containing vinyl floor tiles, often asbestos material can be found to be in a highly friable, e.g. disintegrating condition. However, any material suspected to be asbestos is found to be whole or intact, there is always a considerable risk that any attempt to handle will release the easily airborne fibre dust.

It is imperative to immediately seal the area, evacuate the premises and contact the statutory authorities for the correct removal and disposal by approved, licensed contractors.