What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a term for a group of minerals made of microscopic fibres. Before its dangers were known, asbestos was often used in buildings for insulation, flooring and roofing and sprayed on ceilings and walls. It is now banned in the UK. Buildings constructed before the year 2000 may still have asbestos in them. If the asbestos-containing materials inside these buildings remain intact, they pose very little risk.
It’s only when these materials are damaged or disturbed that tiny asbestos fibres can be released into the air and breathed into your lungs.
The symptoms of asbestos-related disease take many years – even decades – to appear after the original exposure to asbestos, so exposure a long time ago might only be showing up as a disease today.
Where can I find asbestos?
Common asbestos containing materials (ACMs) include the following:
Corrugated roof sheets
Textured decorative coatings
Gutters and downpipes
Soffit boards (AIB)
Garage Ceilings (especially if below a room)
Damp proof courses
Vinyl floor tiles (aka 'Marley')
Bitumen sink pads
Gaskets and ropes
Electrical fuse guards
This list is not exhaustive.
Common asbestos materials
Without getting into a science lesson, asbestos fibres are typically defined into three colours, White (chrysotile), Brown (amosite) and Blue (crocidolite).
Products can contain one or a mixture.
As a rule of thumb, the softer the product, the more dangerous it is. If the application was used for insulation purposes then this is generally the most dangerous and will likely contain amosite and/or crocidolite fibres.
Asbestos cement (AC) used for garage roofs among other things is usually white asbestos (10-15%).
Asbestos Insulation Board (AIB) was used for ceiling tiles, ceiling board, fire breaks, window panels and internal boxing for pipes and flues. Old 'warm air' heating systems are notorious. AIB is normally a mixture of amosite and chrysotile (40-60%). It can release tens of thousands of fibres if broken or drilled/sanded.
Asbestos Insulation can take different forms and was both hand applied to pipes or fitted in pre-formed sections. by far the worst kind of asbestos insulation was spray coating to ceilings as this naturally breaks down and can be easily damaged. Insulation can be as much as 80% asbestos fibres and can contain a mixture of all colours, but will highly likely contain crocidolite fibres which are the most dangerous.
Only analysis by sampling will prove the content and type of fibres in a suspect material.
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