One of the questions most frequently asked when asbestos advice is being sought by concerned homeowners is if their particular property is likely to contain the deadly material. According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), around a half of UK households are still likely to have asbestos hidden within the fabric of the building.
Despite growing asbestos awareness of the fatal health risks to the many thousands of men and women exposed to the toxic mineral widely used as heat insulation and a fire retardant throughout twentieth century UK manufacturing, fabrication and heavy industry, it was only in 1999 that the use of the white chrysotile form was finally banned.
Considered less dangerous than the brown ( amosite) and blue ( crocidolite) types prohibited from use in the early 1980s, white ( chrysotile) asbestos continued to be used in many building materials used for constructing or renovating domestic dwellings as well as public and commercial buildings.
A 1985 survey of over 2.2 million council houses conducted by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities (AMA) estimated that there could be between two and four million homes constructed of lightweight building materials containing hidden asbestos.
Modern asbestos-free materials often look similar to products containing asbestos and therefore, it is not always easy to distinguish between an asbestos –containing material (ACM) or a non-asbestos containing material, especially in properties more than 25 years old.
A general guidance for assessing the probability of uncovering asbestos in an older domestic property can be calculated as being around thirty per cent applied in the form of textured and sprayed ceiling coatings and wall cladding, the most predominant use.
Around ten to fifteen per cent can be found in other forms of insulation used in cement panel ceilings, lagging around boiler flue pipes and ducts, cold water storage tanks, roofing felt, roof eaves, soffits, gutters, and rainwater pipes.
Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB) was the most commonly used building material for constructing partition walls, fireproofing panels in fire doors, ceiling tiles, soffits and panels below windows. Loose fill asbestos was also typically applied in between cavity walls, under floorboards and in loft spaces.
While it is considered that the uncovering of asbestos containing floor tiles is less dangerous because the fibres were bonded together and encapsulated with the tile material when manufactured, any sign of wear, damage or moisture could still be potentially harmful.
Any exposed asbestos material can easily release it’s fibre dust particles into the surrounding air. Once inhaled, the fibres remain permanently embedded in the linings of the lungs, eventually causing asbestosis disease or the fatal, incurable cancer, mesothelioma.
The long gestation period of between 10 and 50 years from first exposure to the emergence of asbestosis symptoms when mesothelioma is at an advanced stage in an elderly patient often means that survival rates after confirmed diagnosis is less than six months. The present application period for meothelioma compensation is three years.
Any material uncovered during structural conversion, or general renovations, which appears to be in a fragile, disintegrating condition – known as “friable” – should be considered suspect and not handled until analysed by licensed and approved asbestos expert to determine it’s exact properties.