How to stop worrying about asbestos
Discovering your property may be contaminated with asbestos is a prospect that will likely ring alarm bells. But the vast misinformation and uncertainty on the topic is exacerbating your fears more than necessary- we’re here to share the facts and resources on how to stop worrying about asbestos.
The first step in how to stop worrying about asbestos is to understand what the substance is in the first place.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a natural silicate mineral found in fibrous form. It has been mined most notably in Russia, Quebec & South Africa for many centuries and is still being mined in some regions today.
There are six forms of fibrous asbestos which have been used worldwide, but only three were used within UK. Of these six types, they can be categorised into two groups: amphibole or serpentine.
These are soft, inelastic bundles of sinuous fibres with a silky appearance. This form of asbestos is hydrophilic, meaning the fibres are able to absorb water.
- Chrysotile– This is also referred to as white asbestos, as it is white in colour. Most commonly used in the UK, it is suspected to still be in 50% of private and residential buildings.
These are soft or harsh straight, needle-like fibres in parallel bundles, and are hydrophobic which means they naturally repel water.
- Crocidolite – Blue in colour.
- Amosite – Brown in colour. Noted as one of the more hazardous types.
Blue and brown asbestos, the other two types of asbestos used widely in the UK.
Asbestos was once regarded as a ‘magic’ or ‘miracle’ mineral, due to its properties which allowed it to repel and resist water, fire, chemical & biological degradation and erosion, as well as being structurally strong yet flexible. This made it an ideal substance for a variety of uses which require it to be robust and resilient.
When wondering how to stop worrying about asbestos, it may be helpful to understand how commonly it has been used throughout history.
The history behind asbestos
Asbestos has a long timeline of use in everyday items which, before its undoing, was regarded as head and shoulders above other materials in its versatility. Believed to have gained its name from the Greek word for inextinguishable, asbestos was revered globally for its durability under harsh conditions.
Evidence from archaeological studies place the earliest known use of asbestos back to the stone ages in Finland, over 4000 years ago. The composition of earthware clay pots and cooking utensils were strengthened using anthophyllite asbestos fibres.
From here on, evidence supports that asbestos was used throughout the Stone Age, and through the Bronze & Iron ages in ceramics across Europe and Russia.
It is believed Romans utilised asbestos in their building materials and as well as fire-proof cleaning cloths which they would ‘cleanse’ using fire. Assumed to be a safe option for sanitisation at the time, the cloths would withstand heat from the fire and appear cleaner after being dowsed.
However, there is also equal evidence which suggests we have been aware of its negative health consequences for almost as long. Strabo, a Greek philosopher and historian prominent during the rise of the Roman Empire, observed a ‘sickness of the lungs’ in slaves who had woven asbestos into cloths.
Unfortunately, the convenience of asbestos was too well incentivised for leaders and corporations to consider the building stack of evidence suggesting it was contributing to poor health of the common labourer or slave. Thus, the production of asbestos materials only increased.
The industrial revolution played a part in engraining asbestos into much of our modern infrastructure. The asbestos industry originated in England in 1870, and the material was used as an insulator for steam engines, boilers and electrical generators as it did not conduct electricity.
Construction trades, shipyard workers and mining towns were some of the occupations most affected by the industrial carcinogen, with millions of people exposed to the fibres during the industrial boom.
Asbestos was even used as a filtering agent during the production of alcoholic drinks such as beer and wine in the UK, up until the 1970s.
In 1924, Nellie Kershaw of Rochdale became the first reported medical death which was attributed to fibrosis of the lungs and tuberculosis, later coined asbestosis. She had been working with asbestos as a ‘rover’ cotton spinner for over 20 years.
Despite the increasing amount of epidemiological studies supporting the link between asbestos exposure and lung health complications, industrial production and use of asbestos was not completely banned in the UK until 1999.
HSE has estimated that today around 300,000 non-domestic buildings in the UK contain asbestos, and many more homes. It is far more commonplace than one might imagine.
Although asbestos has been banned in 50+ countries and strict regulations have been introduced in Europe and America, many regions in the non-western world such as Russia, India and China still mine and import asbestos today.
Is asbestos dangerous to my health?
If want to learn how to stop worrying about asbestos, it’s important to understand the potential health risks it can pose.
When asbestos is disturbed, small particles in the form of fibres are released into the air. Exposure to asbestos can either be through inhalation or ingestion of the fibres, and can cause cancer and other asbestos related diseases.
Asbestos possesses the ability to inhabit the body, and alter the nucleus of the cells so they become cancerous.
Breathing or ingesting asbestos fibres could increase your chances of getting an asbestos related disease. There are four known illnesses:
- Mesothelioma – cancer of lining of lung.
- Lung cancer – this has increased risk of fatality by smoking.
- Asbestosis- lung fibrosis or scarring, not always fatal but debilitating.
- Diffuse Pleural thickening – mild illness where fibres get into the lung lining.
There is a long latency period from time of exposure to onset of disease, and those who smoke are significantly more likely to be at risk of developing lung cancer.
In the UK, asbestos still kills around 5000 workers each year. Many tradesmen die from past exposure from working with the material.
Researchers have been working to establish the risks asbestos exposure has on the current population, and the UK parliament has published some guidance towards this. The good news is for those whose working lives began after the initial banning of asbestos in the 80s, who are much less likely to contract mesothelioma.
It is important to understand that although asbestos exposure is serious, not every instance will result in poor health consequences. Disturbance of the area is key to limiting its health risks, as asbestos would have to be cut up and ground down to dust before it poses serious concern.
Research shows if the asbestos has been left undisturbed, it does not present a health risk. Whilst developing mesothelioma and lung cancer is a valid concern, it is still rare to develop.
This means that the next step in learning how to stop worrying about asbestos, is to prepare yourself for when the situation arises.
Where is asbestos commonly found?
Due to the intense production of asbestos materials within the UK, asbestos can be found in the most unlikely places.
Most notably within building materials such as:
- Loose and thermal insulation
- Corrugated roof sheets
- Spray coating
- Insulating board
- Cement product
- Vinyl or Thermoplastic floor tiles (often found in bathrooms & kitchens)
- Artex or textured ceiling
- Textiles, cardboard & paper
- Reinforced composites (polymer)
Any building built prior to the year 2000, but particularly those built before the 1980’s is at risk of containing asbestos.
How do I know if there is asbestos in my property?
Unfortunately, asbestos is incredibly difficult to identify visually alone. We understand this may be a worrying concept, therefore it is vital that samples are sent off for testing by a qualified professional.
We preach that all material should be treated as if it were positive for toxins, until it has been tested and cleared. It is imperative that strict health and safety protocol is followed by those handling the material to minimise the risk of exposure.
How to minimise exposure?
Learning how to stop worrying about asbestos and taking appropriate measures to manage it can help ensure your own safety and the safety of those around you. When worried about asbestos exposure, it helps to think logically about ways to reduce your contact.
As asbestos can be inhaled or ingested, it is wise to stop all activities which may increase the chance of this happening. Eating, drinking, smoking and vaping should be avoided completely in the environment.
Construction workers and tradespeople should wet material they are working with to avoid fibres being released when it is broken or manipulated.
Cover and avoid all suspected areas and ensure if you must handle the material, you are wearing appropriate PPE like a respirator or mask and gloves.
Take great care not to disturb the material, and ensure anyone attending the property is aware of the hazard. If you believe you may have already been exposed, seek medical advice immediately and inform your doctor or GP of the potential exposure.
Can I remove asbestos myself?
Due to the legal requirements imposed on asbestos disposal, the property may require a specialist team to handle the substance – which can be costly to remove. Do not let this tempt you to complete a DIY removal before testing.
There are different grades of asbestos, which can have a lesser or greater impact on your health should you be exposed. It is important to have the substance tested so this can be ruled out or the correct removal procedure can be identified.
You should not handle asbestos yourself, but as of 2012 regulations have been set in place to put the legal duty on property owners to record and control all asbestos materials within non-domestic properties.
How to stop worrying about asbestos: professional asbestos removal
The easiest on solution in how to stop worrying about asbestos is calling in the professionals.
At Rainbow Restoration UK, all technicians on site are asbestos awareness trained, registered and are qualified through an asbestos training program which covers everything from the history of asbestos to sampling and safe removal. We provide refresher training every 12 months or sooner if we deem it necessary to keep up to date with the latest techniques and guidance.
Our teams will be fully equipped with the correct PPE and will safely complete a comprehensive risk assessment survey, sampling and decontamination of the area, whilst avoiding disturbance to asbestos fibres. If the sample returns as positive and the removal is categorised as Notifiable Non-Licensed Work (NNLW), our teams will be on hand to complete this for you.
This includes the removal of chrysolite, cement, vinyl or thermoplastic floor tiles, and textured coatings such as artex ceiling and bitumen. Any substance of higher grade may require specially licensed teams for removal- we will advise accordingly once sampling is complete.
Whilst asbestos can be a concerning health risk, with the correct information and resources on how to stop worrying about asbestos, you can take proactive steps to manage the risks and protect yourself and others from negative consequences.
With over 50 branches across the UK, we are able to provide local support to anyone who believes they have found asbestos in their home or premises. To find out more, you can read about our Asbestos Testing & Removal Service or you can call our national helpline on 01623 422 488, 24/7 365 days per year.