Introduction on asbestos

Up until the year 2000 Asbestos in its many forms was a commonly used building material. Historically man has known about the dangers with asbestos since about 600-500 BC when the ancient Greeks used a heat resisting material to handle molten glass. They wondered why these workers died with respiratory conditions at an early age.

Asbestos is a mineral that is still mined in parts of the world today. It is heat, flame and acid resistant. It has been used to reinforce lightweight building materials such as corrugated cement sheet, soffit and facia boards, roofing tiles, cement moulded guttering and pipe work. It was the stiffening in “Artex” (Asbestos Rough Texture) for walls and ceilings. It is also present in pre-2000 thermoplastic floor tiles and may also be found in the heat pad under pre-2000 kitchen sinks where it is used to distribute heat from hot water and to deaden sound.

When in good condition and undamaged, asbestos presents minimal risk.  Asbestos presents a significant risk to health when damaged. This allows exposed fibres to be liberated into the air and can be drawn in through the nose/mouth.

Asbestos in trade or industrial premises

In the UK more recently there has been legislation to control its release and use in the Industrial environment (the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012).  In the commercial environment, this requires persons responsible for premises to have the premises surveyed by a competent person. If Asbestos is found they must maintain a surveillance register to monitor any deterioration in condition.   Where Asbestos is considered to be in a dangerous condition it must be removed (depending on the material) by a competent and licensed contractor, then removed from site by licensed carriers as hazardous waste and disposed of at an approved site.

Asbestos in domestic premises

In domestic premises most owners usually want to remove the old floor tiles, strip out the Artex, replace old facia soffit and guttering or replace the old corrugated roof on the garage.  All this material is generally considered “Low Risk”, but nonetheless must be treated with care and handled in a manner that will not put lives and health at risk.  In most cases the best course of action is to encase or encapsulate.  Thermoplastic tiles should be sealed under a floor levelling compound or under ceramic floor tiles, Artex walls and ceilings can be skimmed with plaster.  Sheet building material is more difficult to deal with.  It MUST NOT be broken when being removed, all securing bolts or fastenings must be cut.  Every sheet can then be lifted off and stacked without damage.  It must be double wrapped in heavy gauge plastic and sealed closed.  It can be disposed of by private occupiers at a KCC Recycling Centre (tip).  The material should not be stored externally where it can weather and become damaged. Asbestos once removed cannot be re-used.

Further information is available at www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos .

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