What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a natural substance: a fibrous mineral, formerly extracted and used in many applications where insulation, heat/fire resistance, chemical resistance and rigidity were important. It was used in construction: in roofs, ceiling and door linings, gutters, downpipes for rain, radiators, boilers, flues and heating pipes, engineering in car brakes and shipyards and was also used in many commercial and household products – for instance, it was often mixed in with other materials such as in: floor tiles, fire blankets, ironing boards and oven gloves. It was very widely used during the twentieth century and most buildings erected during that time will probably have some asbestos somewhere in them.
What are the problems with asbestos now?
Unfortunately, despite its many uses as an insulator, and even though there are still some products in which it can legally be included, the use of asbestos has now been banned in many areas because it has been found to cause serious health problems, including a type of cancer. It has also been classified as a carcinogen (causes cancer). This cancer-forming property can cause problems where items containing asbestos need to be removed or repaired, such as in a roof. If asbestos is undisturbed there should be no problems but care needs to be taken to avoid fibres being released because they can damage health. There is less risk to health where asbestos is left undisturbed, so it is recommended that any asbestos-containing products that do not need to be removed or repaired are left alone until they come to the natural end of their economic life. This is because, no matter how careful any removal operative is, there will ALWAYS be some fibres released when asbestos is disturbed, so it is better to leave it undisturbed if possible. But it should, of course, be monitored and assessed regularly, to ensure that it continues to be in a safe condition and if not, then the situation should be assessed to check whether a safe repair and seal operation can be carried out. If not, only then should removal be considered.