Frequently asked questions - Asbestos

The use of asbestos sharply declined in the late 1970s when it became evident that asbestos posed a threat to human health and safety. Today, asbestos is classified as a known human carcinogen.

The property of durability—which made asbestos so desirable to manufacturers—is that which makes asbestos hazardous.

Asbestos fibers are microscopic (roughly .02 the diameter of a human hair), and therefore, are easily inhaled. Once inhaled, the fibers cling to the respiratory system, including the lining of the lungs and inner cavity tissue. As asbestos fibers are typically quite rigid, they become lodged in the soft internal tissue of the respiratory system and are not easily expelled or broken-down by the body.

Hundreds of thousands of people were exposed to asbestos in some capacity as a result of the mineral’s extensive use in domestic, commercial, and industrial products. There is no safe type of asbestos and no safe level of exposure. Nearly all those with exposure history are potentially at risk of serious respiratory health complications.

Asbestos refers to a set of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals. Asbestos has six primary sub-classifications: chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite. Among these, chrysotile and amositeasbestos are the most common.

Although asbestos fibers are microscopic in nature, they are extremely durable and resistant to fire and most chemical reactions and breakdowns. These properties of asbestos were the reasons that supported its use for many years in a number of different commercial and industrial capacities.

The strength of asbestos, combined with its resistance to heat, allowed it to become the material of choice in a variety of products, including, but not limited to, roofing shingles, floor tiles, ceiling materials, cement compounds, textile products, and automotive parts. Asbestos is now strictly regulated as exposure to this toxic mineral can now be directly and scientifically linked to a number of lung and respiratory health conditions.

There are a number of products that have historically contained asbestos.  Producing a comprehesive list is not easy.

The Health and Safety Executive list the folloiing products

This is not an exhaustive list.

Material Type
3-inch corrugated asbestos cement (AC) white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
6-inch corrugated AC white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Artex white asbestos
Asbestolux blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Asbestos blanket white asbestos
Asbestos caulking blue asbestos used until 1970, then white
Asbestos cement white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Asbestos cloth any type used until 1965, then white asbestos
Asbestos felt white asbestos
Asbestos gasket blue and white asbestos
Asbestos gauntlet/glove any type used until 1965, then white asbestos
Asbestos insulating board blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Asbestos paper white asbestos
Asbestos rope blue asbestos used until 1970, then white
Asbestos string white asbestos
Asbestos tape white asbestos
Asbestos tile white asbestos
Asbestos wallboard blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Bigsix white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Bitumen adhesive white asbestos
Bitumen mastic white asbestos
Brake, clutch composite white asbestos
CAF or CAF-IT gaskets blue and white asbestos
Canada tile white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Caposil brown asbestos
Caposite brown asbestos
Cavity decking white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Colourglaze white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Combined sheet white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Composites, reinforced white asbestos, occasionally brown
Damp-proof course paper white asbestos
Damp-proof course sealant white asbestos
Diamond AC white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Doublesix white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Drive belt white asbestos
Durasteel laminate white asbestos
Eflex white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Emalie white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Eternit slates white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Everite (moulded product) white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Everite slates white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Ferroasbestos white asbestos, occasionally brown
Floor tile - thermoplastic white asbestos
Flooring - PVC white asbestos
Fort white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Friction product white asbestos
Galbestos white asbestos
Glasal AC white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Glen six white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Insulating board blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
JM slate white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Klingerit blue and white asbestos
LDR blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Limpet blue asbestos mixtures used until 1971, then brown and white
Lion jointing blue and white asbestos
Magnesium oxychloride flooring white asbestos
Major tile white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Marblecoat white asbestos
Marinite blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Millboard blue asbestos used until 1965, then white
Monad white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Newtex white asbestos
Novilon white asbestos
Novilon flooring white asbestos
Panel sheet white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Partition board blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Pax-felt white asbestos
Pebblecoat white asbestos
Permanite blue and white asbestos
Poilite white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Promenade tiles white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
PVC reinforced white asbestos
Rock wool Not asbestos material but may contain traces of asbestos contamination
Roofing felt (Some) white asbestos
Sealant dpc white asbestos
Serval white asbestos
Serval asbestos flooring white asbestos
Shipboard blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Siluminite white asbestos, occasionally brown
Sindanyo white asbestos, occasionally brown
Speakers slates white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Spray coating blue asbestos mixtures used until 1971, then brown and white
Storage heaters Some storage heaters contain asbestos
Supalux not asbestos material but may contain traces of asbestos contamination
Supersix white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Suretex white asbestos
Thrutone white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Trafford tile white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Troughsec white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Turnall (moulded product) white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Turnall slates white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Turnasbestos blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Turners slates white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Twin twelve white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Viceroy foiled paper white asbestos
Vinyl asbestos tile white asbestos
Wall board blue asbestos used until 1965, then brown and white
Weatherall white asbestos mostly; blue used until 1969, brown until 1980
Wondertex white asbestos
  • White asbestos: chrysotile, serpentine
  • Brown asbestos: amosite, amphibole
  • Blue asbestos: crocidolite, amphibole

Training

The current Regulations place a legal duty on employers to provide information, instruction and training to any of their employees who are likely to be exposed to asbestos as part of their work.
See: http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/training.htm

Refresher training for licensable and non-licensable work should be given every year. This should be based on a training needs analysis.

Risk assessment

A risk assessment must be carried out before any work on asbestos begins

Protective Clothing

Yes, if an employee is liable to be exposed to asbestos, then employers should provide that employee with adequate personal protective clothing appropriate for the work that they will be doing. 
See: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/guidance/em6.pdf

Health screening

 All workers/self employed doing notifiable work with asbestos must be under health surveillance by a Doctor. 

The right to report your employer

If your employer is not enforcing correct controls then you should report them.

Firstly you should check which enforcing authority you need to contact.

If the enforcing authority is HSE you can report your concern using the HSRE online form or by calling the HSE Concerns team: 0300 003 1647 during office hours 8.30am - 5.00pm Monday - Friday, Thursday 10.00am to 5.00pm.

People responsible for maintenance of non-domestic premises, have a duty to manage the asbestos in them, and should provide you with information on where any asbestos is in the building and what condition it is in.

If no information is available or it is limited and you suspect asbestos may be present you should have the area surveyed and representative samples of the material you are going to work on analysed.
See: http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/duty.htm

There is a very good chance that asbestos is present in most homes built between the 1950s and the early 1980s and can possibly be found in homes built before or after these dates. If it is in poor condition, gets damaged or releases fibres in any way, you and other residents are at risk. Anyone carrying out DIY on asbestos products is putting themselves at risk.

Asbestos has been used in all sorts of materials found in the home. The following list is not complete and should only be used as a rough guide:

  • Combined with different quantities of bonding agent, asbestos was used to lag the steel support framework in tower blocks and services such as heating pipes, electrical conduits and ventilation ducts.
  • In hard-board form it was used on the back of service intake doors, panels at the back of gas fires, bath panels, etc.
  • In plaster-board form it was used as wall board, especially where there are service ducts running behind.
  • It was used as a filler in textured ceiling and wall coverings like Artex, in linoleum floor tiles and artificial slate roofing.
  • It is found in some storage heaters, ironing boards, brake and clutch linings and garage roofs and walls.
  • It was combined with cement for use in corrugated roofing, pipework, etc.

You cannot determine whether a material contains asbestos by visual inspection, detection requires analysis which is a special skill and should only be done by qualified people.

For Birmingham Council tennants the City Council has a good guide to abestos in the home

When is Asbestos a Problem?

Asbestos is dangerous when fibres can be released. Even minor damage can produce many fibres, sometimes directly in the area of breathing (drilling a hole, for example).

Damage can also be done by wallpaper scrapers, rubbing down asbestos panels or Artex with sandpaper and removing asbestos panels to gain access to services.

Asbestos products can also be damaged accidentally if they are scraped, knocked or vandalised. Cutting asbestos with electrical tools and smashing asbestos products with a hammer are extremely dangerous and must be avoided at all costs.

Health and safety legislation does not require schools to inform parents about the presence of asbestos in their children’s school. Some schools do provide parents with information to assure them that effective management arrangements are in place.

The management arrangements at the school should prevent disturbance of asbestos containing materials – but if these arrangements fail and there is an accidental release of asbestos fibres, then it is important that those affected are informed.

HSE’s website includes simple guidance for those who may have been inadvertently exposed to asbestos.