Asbestos has been banned in UK properties since 1999, so you may well think you're safe from this mineral's well-known health risks. However, as homes built before this date - an estimated half a million in the UK- may still contain asbestos, it's important to be aware of how to live alongside and dispose of this substance safely without putting yourself or others in danger.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos refers to a group of fibrous minerals that have been valued for thousands of years on account of their many useful physical properties. The insulating quality, strength, flexibility and durability of asbestos even caused some ancient people to believe it possessed magical properties. While naturally occuring deposits of asbestos are extremely common, only a few types are suitable for commercial use. Large-scale commercial mining and manufacturing of the substance, mainly for use in the construction industry, began during the second half of the Victorian era.
Serious health risks
When disturbed or damaged, materials containing asbestos can release fibres into the air. If inhaled, these asbestos fibres can trigger serious or even fatal lung diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma. The second half of the twentieth century saw the introduction of the first regulations around the use of asbestos as more became known about the significant health implications associated with breathing in its fibres. In 1970, strict laws were implemented to regulate the use of asbestos in the workplace but the import, use and supply of brown (amosite) and blue (crocidolite) asbestos was not banned until 1985 in the UK. White asbestos (crysotile) was banned in 1999 except for a small number of specialist uses of the material.
Asbestos and your home
In domestic properties, asbestos can be found in common building materials such as lagging, textured coatings, roofing felt and rope seals or gaskets. In addition, flues from boilers and ventilation ducts used to be made from asbestos, even drain pipes and bath panels. If you're concerned that your home may contain asbestos, you should first seek advice from an environmental health officer at your local authority or council. Leave asbestos-containing materials where they are, especially if they're in good condition and not at risk of getting damaged. You can ensure that you're not at risk of coming into contact with asbestos fibres by checking materials at regular intervals to ensure that they haven't been damaged or started to deteriorate. Slightly damaged asbestos-containing materials can sometimes be repaired by sealing or enclosing them, however, this should only ever be done by someone with the necessary training. Any material that is too damaged to be protected should also only be removed by someone with the correct training. Your local environmental health officer can advise about this, or to search for the best person to dispose of asbestos in your local area, visit the Gov.uk website at https://www.gov.uk/asbestos-in-home.
Protect our plumbers!
The death rate among plumbing and heating engineers in the UK is extremely high, with around 20 tradespeople dying each week as a result of past exposure. When hiring contractors to undertake construction work on your property, help to keep them safe from asbestos exposure by being sure to inform them if your property contains this dangerous material. This will allow them to take steps to ensure that any materials containing asbestos are not disturbed.
To find an Quality Plumber in your local area, search via the APHC website.