Tuesday, 18 March 2014

What is Asbestos?

Lots of us have probably heard of asbestos in one way or another and most of us should know that it is a potentially 
harmful material that needs to be treated with care. But what is it and why do we need to be so careful around it?

Asbestos was hugely popular and widespread in the 1950’s throughout the building and construction industries. The reason? It has very good insulating properties, by keeping the cold out, whilst holding heat in. Asbestos was found to also be a strong protector against fire and corrosion.  For these reasons, asbestos was mass produced and used in a wide variety of ways and incorporated in all sorts of buildings, including countless thousands of domestic properties.

However, from as far back as the 1970’s, asbestos was found to hide many serious health risks, mostly concerning the lungs of those who come into close contact with the fibrous material. Diseases such as: Asbestosis, Mesothelioma, lung cancer and pleural thickening are the most common with exposure to asbestos. The difficulty with these are that they take a long time to develop and therefore, to diagnose. This was one of the factors why the danger of asbestos wasn’t highlighted straight away. 

There were attempts at blanket bans of the use of asbestos in new builds, but because of various loopholes, it wasn’t until the turn of the new millennium that it was against the law to use it. Regardless of the ban, there remains huge portions of buildings that still have asbestos used somewhere as lining, be it in ceiling tiles, pipe insulation, loft insulation, boilers or sprayed coatings.

It’s often thought that asbestos was used to add insulation in lofts as thick panels of it were laid down. This is true; however, it was more widely spread than that. For example, a sprayed coating of asbestos was used to protect against fire on beams in properties. AIB, or asbestos insulating board is highly dangerous and was used in door panels mostly. If these are cut, then the tiny fibres of asbestos fly out and this is what can cause lung damage. AIB was also used in many window panels too, and the result of which is the same as that on the doors. 

Thermoplastic tiles that were used on many floors of buildings in the 1950’s contained asbestos, and these could become air bound if torn up. Asbestos was also used in cement roof sheeting, commonplace on larger scale buildings, such as factories and warehouse roofs.  

Lastly, asbestos was used in the process of decorative coating in properties, chiefly the ceiling panel design called Artex. It may only contain traces of asbestos, but this material should still be treated and precautions taken when handling it.