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What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a generic name given to a group of six naturally occurring silicate minerals which were first mined over 4,000 years ago.  However, large scale mining of asbestos only began at the end of the 19th century when builders started to use the material for its sound absorption, toughness, resistance to fire, heat, electrical and chemical damage. Another factor in its popularity was the cheapness of the raw materials.

All six types of asbestos have fibrous crystals composed of millions of ‘fibrils’

What types of Asbestos could I find in my building?

The most commonly found asbestos in buildings and commonly used building materials are commonly known by their colours, White Asbestos (Chrysotile), Brown Asbestos (Amosite) and Blue Asbestos (Crocidolite). The colours refer to the colour of the naturally occurring ore and not to the colour of the resultant building product.

What was Asbestos used for?

Because of its unique properties and affordability,asbestos became increasingly widespread towards the end of the 19th century, including fire retardant coatings, concrete, bricks, pipes and fireplace cement, heat, fire, and acid resistant gaskets, pipe insulation, ceiling insulation, fireproof drywall, flooring, roofing, corrugated roofing sheets and wall boards, jointing compounds and even floor tiles. In 2011 it was reported that over 50% of UK houses still contained asbestos, despite a ban on asbestos products some years earlier.

Why is asbestos so dangerous?

The prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibres can be fatal, causing illnesses such as lung cancer, malignant mesothelioma and asbestosis, and illness may appear decades after exposure. Although suggestions were made that asbestos could be harmful were noted in Roman times, the first diagnosis of asbestosis in the UK only occurred in 1924.

Regulations (UK)

Blue and brown asbestos materials were banned outright in 1985 in the UK and it became illegal to import, sell or reuse white asbestos in 1999.

The 2012 Control of Asbestos Regulations enforce a ‘duty to manage’ asbestos in their buildings on owners of non-domestic buildings (e.g., factories and offices)by making themselves aware of its presence and ensuring the material does not deteriorate, removing it if necessary (hence the ‘Asbestos Register). If you are an employer whose workers may come into contact with asbestos (e.g. construction companies, refurbishment contractors, building services or demolition companies), you must also provide annual asbestos training.