Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals, which were used commercially due to their physical properties. Many products were manufactured using asbestos. Some examples include appliances, building materials, fireproof barriers, and in insulation. Asbestos was completely banned for all construction uses in 1999. Previously, all five amphibole asbestos types were banned in 1985.
How Dangerous is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a known carcinogen. Prolonged inhalation of dust particles can lead to serious conditions such as asbestosis (lung tissue damage), mesothelioma (a type of cancer impacting the lining of the heart, abdomen and lungs) and malignant lung cancer. It is estimated that asbestos exposure results in approximately 4,000 deaths throughout the United Kingdom each and every year. Thus, the United Kingdom and the European Union have placed a complete ban on the manufacturing of all asbestos-based products.
What is Asbestos?
Interestingly enough, ancient civilisations first began mining asbestos over 4,000 years ago. It was not until the dawn of the 19th century that asbestos gained popularity amongst contractors and builders. This is due to inherent qualities such as acoustic absorption, resistance to fire, and its use as an electrical insulator. Additionally, asbestos was affordable compared to other products of the time. Here are the three primary varieties of asbestos which can still be found in some properties:
- White serpentine (Chrysotile)
- Blue amphibole (Crocidolite)
- Brown amphibole (Amosite)
The three rarer types of asbestos that can be found in this country also which are:
Although the use of asbestos within the United Kingdom can be traced back to the 18th century, widescale production did not begin until the Industrial Revolution (due to a rise in the number of factories). Some common asbestos-containing materials manufactured between the 1950s and the 1990s include:
- Textured coatings
- Thermoplastic file floors
- Cement products
- Toilet cisterns
- Insulation (both sprayed and standard boards)
- Pipe insulation
Asbestos: A Recognised Health Hazard
Many believe that the first death related to asbestos occurred in 1906. At the time time, medical professionals began making a correlation between lung problems and premature deaths with the populations of mining towns.
To be clear, all varieties of asbestos are hazardous to humans. However, the three most dangerous varieties are Crocidolite and Amosite. This is particularly the case when large doses of fibres are inhaled.
Who Does Asbestos Affect?
In most cases, those who are impacted by asbestos are individuals who become exposed to this material on a regular basis (such as those who may be involved with the construction or demolition sector). The main issue here is that asbestos was used within countless products between the 1960s and the late 1980s. This naturally increased the risks that individuals would suffer long-term health consequences.
Blue and brown asbestos (as well as other types) were legally banned in 1985. Second-hand reuse and import sales of white asbestos were likewise prohibited beginning in 1999. Additional guidelines were put into place in 2006 through the introduction of the Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR). These included placing specific responsibilities upon owners of non-domestic properties in terms of safely managing any on-site asbestos that may be present. The main intention was to ensure that the asbestos did not degrade and become airborne. Furthermore, property owners would be obliged to remove such materials if deemed appropriate.