Knowledgebase  What is Asbestos

What is Asbestos

Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring fibrous silicate minerals used commercially for their desirable physical properties. The UK and European Union has banned all extraction, use, manufacture and processing of asbestos.

Asbestos mining and usage began more than 4,000 years ago, and its use became increasingly popular among manufacturers and builders in the late 19th century because of its sound absorption, tensile strength, fire resistance, and insulation properties. Large scale mining and simple processing of the raw material also made asbestos affordable hence its extensive use.

Asbestos was used very extensively in the UK from the 1950s through to the mid 1980s, and is found in hundreds of different products including insulation, insulating boards, coatings, cement products, vinyl products, electrical apparatus, etc. Any building built before 2000 can contain Asbestos Containing Materials ('ACMs') can be found within any building constructed before 2000. ACMs' in good condition are safe. It is only when ACMs are disturbed or damaged that asbestos fibres become airborne.

Asbestos still kills around 5000 workers each year, this is more than the number of people killed on the road. Around 20 tradesman die each week as a result of past exposure.

However, asbestos is not just a problem of the past. It can be present today in any building built or refurbished before the year 2000.

When materials that contain asbestos are disturbed or damaged, fibres are released into the air. When these fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases. These diseases will not affect you immediately; they often take a long time to develop, but once diagnosed, it is often too late to do anything. This is why it is important that you protect yourself now.

Asbestos can cause the following fatal and serious diseases:

  • Mesothelioma
    Mesothelioma is a cancer which affects the lining of the lungs (pleura) and the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract (peritoneum). It is almost exclusively related to asbestos exposure and by the time it is diagnosed, it is almost always fatal.
  • Asbestos-related lung cancer
    Asbestos-related lung cancer is the same as (looks the same as) lung cancer caused by smoking and other causes. It is estimated that there is around one lung cancer for every mesothelioma death.
  • Asbestosis
    Asbestosis is a serious scarring condition of the lung that normally occurs after heavy exposure to asbestos over many years. This condition can cause progressive shortness of breath, and in severe cases can be fatal.
  • Pleural thickening
    Pleural thickening is generally a problem that happens after heavy asbestos exposure. The lining of the lung (pleura) thickens and swells. If this gets worse, the lung itself can be squeezed, and can cause shortness of breath and discomfort in the chest.