Asbestos can be found in thousands of homes across the United Kingdom. Although we now know that the material is harmful to human health, it was widely used before the dangers were fully realised. In fact, the import and use of certain types of asbestos were only banned in 1999, so most homes that were built before the 1990’s
will include asbestos in some form. If your home was built before this date, it is recommended that you have an asbestos check on your home to identify any areas where asbestos may be present. On the other hand, if you already know where the asbestos is in your home, you should consider having regular asbestos maintenance checks.
Asbestos does not pose a health risk when it is stable and undamaged. The material only poses a health risk when the fibres become airborne. Asbestos fibres are so small that they can be easily inhaled once they are airborne and this can be very dangerous. The fibres can become lodged in the soft lining of the respiratory system and this can cause severe irritation to the delicate tissue. The strong fibres will
scratch and claw at the lungs and windpipe which can cause extensive scarring. This may lead to breathing difficulties and deoxygenation of the blood stream. Over time, cancerous cell growth may occur in the areas which have been affected by the asbestos fibres. There are no cures for asbestos-related illnesses and they can severely reduce the sufferer’s quality of life.
Building materials which contain asbestos are only a risk to human health when they are damaged. If the material is undamaged, then the asbestos should not pose a risk. In most circumstances, it is actually safer to leave asbestos-containing materials in situ. This is because ripping the building materials out may inadvertently damage them, which could cause asbestos fibres to become airborne.
What is more, these building materials were put in place for a good reason. If you were to rip out a building component, you would probably need to replace it with an alternative that serves the same purpose. This can be very expensive in a house where there are a lot of products containing asbestos.
Most experts advise that products should be kept in place until there is a good reason to remove them. On the other hand, if asbestos products are left in place, they must be monitored to ensure that they have not started to pose a risk to health. Damage can occur to any product over time. Even low-level damage can allow some asbestos fibres to become airborne, which can put people at risk.
Low-level damage can include friction damage, light drilling, small cracks and crumbling outer layers. Expert assessment will help you to keep an eye on the asbestos in your home, so that you can minimise exposure to harmful substances. If any low-level damage is identified during routine maintenance checks, or if there is any indication that low-level damage may occur in the near future, then the asbestos expert can help you to take the steps that are needed to make the product safe. For low-level damage, the asbestos expert is likely to recommend encapsulation.
During encapsulation, the asbestos product is treated with a special chemical which helps to bind the asbestos fibres in place. Some experts liken the process to being wrapped in a very thin layer of plastic. This helps to prevent the asbestos fibres from becoming airborne even if medium-level damage does occur.
Encapsulation is not possible on all types of asbestos product and will not be recommended if the damage is already severe. Because asbestos is part of so many different building materials, some types of material simply cannot be encapsulated without losing the functionality of the product. In cases where encapsulation is not possible, the expert will normally recommend that the asbestos be removed as soon as possible.
Safely removing asbestos can be a complicated procedure because steps have to be taken to ensure that the fibres are not spread throughout the house. Asbestos removal should not be attempted by people who have not had sufficient health and safety training. Once removed, the asbestos must be bagged and tagged as hazardous waste. Failing to do this can result in a fine. In some circumstances, homeowners may be forced to take responsibility for environmental contamination caused by the improper disposal of asbestos. For this reason, it is best to use the services of an asbestos expert if you are dealing with asbestos in your home.
Your local council may be able to recommend specialists who have the knowledge and the skills that are required to monitor existing asbestos and perform any follow-up works that may be require.