New research underlines the significant number of people who are innocently exposed to asbestos either in the workplace or at home and later develop asbestosis diseases, including the fatal, incurable mesothelioma cancer.

Overwhelming evidence and increased asbestos awareness of the severe long term health risks led to the most toxic types of asbestos to be first banned from use in insulation and fireproofing products more than 25 years ago. However, a complete import ban on white asbestos, which continued to be used in the building industry did not take place until the last years of the twentieth century.

As a result, any buildings constructed or renovated up until 2000 are more than likely to contain asbestos materials. It has been estimated that around a half of UK households may have asbestos hidden within the fabric of the building (Health & Safety Executive – HSE).

While it is known that the peak period of asbestos use in the UK took place from the 1940s through to the late 1970s / early 80s, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) released figures in 2009, which show that even after the early 1990s, new cases of asbestosis had risen to 800 and deaths from mesothelioma had exceeded 2,250 by 2008.

In 2010, the Mesothelioma register recorded 2,347 people who lost their lives to mesothelioma. In 2011, there were 725 newly assessed cases of asbestosis and 440 cases of diffuse pleural thickening. (Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit – IIDB).

Ongoing exposure study…

A recent study examined the cases of around 16,000 patients diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma between 1993 and 2008 with an average age of 69. While the source of asbestos exposure was identified in 75 per cent – or just over 12,000 patients, the remaining 25 per cent were completely unaware that their mesothelioma was caused by ongoing exposure to asbestos.

The researchers found that while the majority of cases were the result of exposure in occupations and workplaces known to use asbestos materials, there was clearly a significant number whose asbestos exposure indirectly occurred at home, school, hospital, office or public buildings where asbestos was covertly present as insulation.

Contrary to claims that most remaining asbestos ( white chrysotile) is a ‘low level’ risk, because specific products such as floor tiles were “encapsulated”, often asbestos material can be found to be in a highly friable, e.g. disintegrating state. Any material suspected to be asbestos whether whole or intact, is liable to release invisible fibre dust particles, which remain airborne for weeks or even months at a time and are easily inhaled.

Not easy to identify asbestos -containing materials (ACMs)

In addition, modern asbestos-free materials often look similar to asbestos -containing materials (ACMs) and therefore, it is not always easy to distinguish between the two, especially in properties more than 25 years old.

Around thirty per cent of asbestos can still be found in the form of textured and sprayed ceiling coatings and wall cladding, and around ten to fifteen per cent installed as insulation used in cement panel ceilings, lagging around boiler flue pipes and ducts and cold water storage tanks.

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.

Asbestos roofing or corrugated sheeting roofing still top many house extensions and garages, lined with asbestos felt and accompanying roof eaves, soffits, gutters, and rainwater pipes.

Due to the long gestation period of up to 50 years from initial exposure to the appearance of asbestosis symptoms, at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed every year in the UK and two-thirds of deaths have occurred since the year 2000 (HSE).