Here are some frequently asked questions and advice relating to the
dangers of asbestos to keep your family and workplace colleges safe from any exposure.
Asbestos is a Category 1 carcinogen. It is the fibrous form of mineral silicates belonging to the serpentine and amphibole groups of rock-forming minerals.’ It was used in more than 3,000 products, including heat-resistant textiles (cloth, padding and board), asbestos cement products (sheets and pipes), special filters for industrial chemicals, thermal insulation products (pipe and boiler insulation), friction materials (clutch plates, brake linings), gaskets, floor tiles, roofing materials, packing materials, paints and protective paper.
Asbestos fibres are 200 times thinner than a human hair, invisible to the naked eye, can stay airborne a long time and be and easily inhaled into the lungs.
Where asbestos is present the risk to people is significant both in terms of health and legal liability, particularly if measures to manage risks are not in place.
Inhalation of asbestos has been linked to three respiratory diseases: asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. The latency period between exposure to asbestos and the onset of the diseases is generally between 15 and 40 years, with symptoms generally not displaying until the advanced stages of illness.
Asbestosis and mesothelioma cannot be effectively treated, and most persons suffering from mesothelioma die within twelve months of diagnosis.
The most harmful asbestos fibres are invisible to the naked eye and easily breathed into the lungs. Asbestos is commonly suggested in the industry as the ‘silent killer’. The reason for this term is because a person being exposed to asbestos, even in high concentrations, would not be aware of the dangers. There is no itching, scratching, shortness of breath or smell. Under a microscope asbestos fibres such as crocolite (blue) and amosite (brown) look like millions of needles or shards of glass. The word ‘asbestos’ came from the ancient Greek term, meaning "unquenchable" or "inextinguishable". It will not be hard to understand what health affects having glass like fibres lodged in your lungs will do.
Inhalation of airborne asbestos fibres can cause death and therefore concentrations of airborne asbestos are a risk that must be controlled. Airborne asbestos fibres can result from: the release of asbestos fibres through the performance of many ordinary tasks such replacing certain types of ducting or insulating materials around items of plant, accidental contact with asbestos materials causing the fibres to break free, and failure to adequately maintain an asbestos containing material resulting in the release of asbestos fibres.
There are 2 main categories which all forms of asbestos fall under; it should be noted that each of these types have very different characteristics and differ substantially in their potential to cause harm. The method of removal of each of these types of asbestos also differs substantially along with the cost associated with the removal.
1. Bonded Asbestos (tightly bound) -
Bonded materials containing asbestos are the most common in domestic houses. They are mainly made up of a bonding compound (such as cement), with typically up to 30% asbestos. Bonded materials containing asbestos are solid, quite rigid and the asbestos fibres are tightly bound in the material. They are commonly called ‘fibro’, ‘asbestos cement’ and ‘AC sheeting’. If you come across fibre cement sheeting and not sure whether it contains asbestos, get advice from a professional consultant. Some clues to watch out for is the joints. Asbestos sheeting panels were commonly made by approx 2 meters x 1.2 meters. They used to fix them together with timber beading or aluminium strips. If you see the brands stamped ‘Wunderlich’ ‘Hardiflex’ ‘Super Six’ Tilux’ ‘Zonolite’ ‘Shadowline’ ‘Galbestos’ ‘Firestop’ ‘Durasbestos’ ‘Durawall’ you can certainly presume the product contains asbestos. The only way to be positive is to have us test it for you in our labs. If you come across the international ‘a’ for asbestos symbol (incorporated into our logo) this means DANGER this material contains asbestos.
Some examples of materials classified as bonded asbestos are:
- Wall and Ceiling sheeting
- Corrugated roofing
- Asbestos Pipes and vents
- Water tanks
- Mechanical breaks
2. Friable asbestos (loosely bound) -
Loosely bound materials containing asbestos are not commonly found in domestic houses. They were primarily used in commercial and industrial settings for fire proofing, sound proofing and insulation, but can be found in some old domestic heaters, stoves, hot water systems and associated pipe lagging and in the backing of vinyl and linoleum floor coverings. These materials can be made of up to 100% asbestos. They are quite loose and can be turned to dust with very light pressure, such as crushing with your hand. Loosely bound materials containing asbestos are very dangerous as the asbestos fibres can get into the air very easily. They must only be handled and removed by an asbestos removal specialist with an A class licence or (AS1).
Some examples of materials classified as friable asbestos are:
- Fire retardant
- Pipe lagging
- Gaskets and seals
- Vinyl Floor coverings