Asbestos is a mineral fibre which is added to other materials to strengthen them and it can also be used to provide insulation and fire resistance. It was often used in house construction up until the mid-80s when people became aware of the health risks associated with it but if your house was built before then there’s a fair chance that asbestos may have been used in its construction somewhere.
Where in the House Might I See it?
Asbestos materials can be found in roof and floor tiles, bath panels, gutters and drainage pipes, airing cupboard walls, garage and shed roofs, fuse boxes and is more commonly associated with being used to lag pipes and to provide insulation to storage heaters but, in all its forms, it is not always visible to the naked eye.
What Are the Dangers?
Contrary to popular belief, asbestos materials which are in good condition do not present too great a problem. Asbestos fibres only become dangerous when you breathe in a large amount so even if you have asbestos in your home, it’s best to leave it alone if it shows no sign of damage as removing it could cause unnecessary fibres to be released into the air.
However, if it’s damaged in any way and giving off dust, you should have it removed. Damage can even occur if you disturb it by rubbing, hitting or handling it or even if it’s subject to extreme levels of air flow or vibration.
If the dust or fibres are inhaled or swallowed in large enough quantities, the miniscule fibres can get lodged in your lungs and can cause lung cancer or diseases such as asbestosis or mesothelioma. Asbestosis causes a scarring of the lungs and is irreversible. It usually leads to chronic pulmonary disease which can be disabling and is, ultimately, often fatal. Mesothelioma is a tumour found in the mesothelium which is a thin lining on the surface of the organs in your body.
Both of these conditions can manifest themselves many years after asbestos has been inhaled.
What Should I do if There is Damaged Asbestos in my Home?
Asbestos products were often used in many different types of building materials and, although it is easily recognisable to the eye in some forms, e.g. when used for lagging and insulation, it is not always easily detected so it’s advisable to get a fully qualified asbestos specialist in to come and remove it.
Can I Remove it Myself?
Unless you are really sure about what you’re doing and how to dispose of asbestos safely, it is always better to obtain the services of an asbestos specialist to remove any disturbed or damaged asbestos. If you do decide to remove it yourself, you should know what you’re doing and never drill, cut, scrape or sand any material you know or suspect contains asbestos. However, you should never attempt any removal of lagging or insulating boards or of sprayed asbestos – these should be left to the experts.
And finally, if you are carrying out any repairs or improvements to your home, be very careful not to damage or disturb any asbestos when drilling, sawing or sanding nearby and make sure that you also tell any builders or contractors whom you might get in to work on your home that asbestos is present and where it is located.