Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral substance that can be pulled into a fluffy consistency. Asbestos fibers are soft and flexible yet resistant to heat, electricity, and chemical corrosion. Pure asbestos is an effective insulator, and it can also be mixed into cloth, paper, cement, plastic, and other materials to make them stronger. These qualities once made asbestos very profitable for business, but unfortunately, they also make asbestos highly toxic.

Asbestos is primarily sourced from mines and can be found in large deposits or as contaminants in other minerals such as talc and vermiculite. It is a silicate mineral, meaning it contains silicon and oxygen atoms, bonded together in a crystalline lattice.

There are two main types of asbestos: serpentine and amphibole. Serpentine asbestos includes the chrysotile variety, which has long, curly fibers that can be woven. Chrysotile asbestos has been the most commonly used form around the world. Amphibole asbestos fibers are shorter and straighter than serpentine varieties and are considered more hazardous to health.

Despite its useful properties, asbestos is extremely hazardous when its fibers are released into the air and inhaled, leading to serious health issues. Prolonged exposure to these fibers can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis, which are serious lung diseases. Due to these health risks, many countries have banned or heavily regulated the use of asbestos. However, asbestos may still be found in older buildings, in some car parts, and in certain consumer products, posing a risk during demolition, building, or repair work.

Asbestos mining still occurs in a few countries around the world, notably Russia, which is the largest producer, along with China and Kazakhstan. These countries have continued to mine and export asbestos, despite the well-documented health risks associated with its use and handling.

The timeline for banning asbestos in various countries varies significantly. Sweden was one of the first countries to ban asbestos, doing so in 1982. The United Kingdom fully banned all forms of asbestos in 1999, following a series of partial bans and increasing regulations starting from the 1980s. Similarly, the European Union banned all forms of asbestos in 2005. However, in the United States, asbestos is still not completely banned and is regulated under various federal laws and regulations.

In the United Kingdom, the use and management of asbestos are governed by several key pieces of legislation. The most significant are:

  1. Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012: This is the primary legislation covering asbestos management in the UK. It sets out the duty to manage asbestos in non-domestic premises, the requirements for licensed work with asbestos, and the training and competencies required to undertake such work.

  2. The Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983 (as amended): This regulation provides specific guidelines for the licensing of asbestos removal work. It ensures that any work involving high-risk asbestos-containing materials is performed by trained and licensed professionals.

  3. The Asbestos (Prohibitions) Regulations 1992 (as amended): This set of regulations formally bans the importation, supply, and use of all forms of asbestos, reinforcing earlier partial bans and controls.

These laws not only ban the use of asbestos but also impose strict regulations on how existing asbestos is managed. They require that asbestos-containing materials in buildings be identified and managed properly to ensure the safety of the occupants. This includes regular surveys, risk assessments, and, if necessary, safe removal and disposal of asbestos by licensed professionals. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the regulatory body responsible for enforcing these regulations in the UK.

Asbestos green floor tile

Asbestos floor tiles, a common feature in buildings constructed before the late 20th century, are known for their durability and fire-resistant properties. Typically made by combining asbestos fibers with various binding materials, these tiles were favored for their strength and heat resistance. However, despite their functional benefits, the presence of asbestos poses significant health risks. When these tiles are intact, the asbestos fibers are generally well-contained and pose minimal risk. The danger arises when the tiles are damaged, disturbed, or worn down, as this can release asbestos fibers into the air. Inhalation of these fibers has been linked to serious health conditions, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Consequently, the handling, removal, or disturbance of asbestos floor tiles requires professional expertise and adherence to strict safety protocols to mitigate the associated health risks.

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Asbestos Textured Coating that Knight Specialist Services Ltd sample during an Asbestos Refurbishment Survey

Asbestos textured and decorative coatings were once widely used in buildings for their aesthetic appeal and functional benefits. These coatings, often applied to ceilings and walls, contained asbestos fibers for added durability and fire resistance. Textured coatings, such as Artex, were popular for their ability to hide imperfections and provide a decorative finish, while decorative coatings included a range of paints and plasters infused with asbestos for enhanced texture and design. However, similar to other asbestos-containing materials, these coatings pose significant health risks if disturbed. The asbestos fibers can become airborne when the coatings are scraped, drilled, or sanded during renovation or maintenance work. Inhaling these fibers can lead to severe health issues, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Due to these dangers, professional handling and removal, adhering to strict safety guidelines, are crucial when dealing with asbestos textured and decorative coatings.

asbestos undercloaking

Asbestos Undercloaking sampled by Knight Specialist Services Ltd on an outrigger in Stockport.

Asbestos cement undercloaking, a building material once commonly used in roof construction, primarily functioned as a protective layer under roof edges and eaves. It was made by reinforcing cement with asbestos fibers, combining the durability and fire-resistance of asbestos with the strength of cement. This composition made it a popular choice for roofing applications, offering robustness and longevity. However, the presence of asbestos in the undercloaking poses significant health risks, especially when the material is disturbed or damaged. If the asbestos fibers are released into the air during activities such as demolition, renovation, or due to deterioration, they can become a serious hazard. Inhalation of these fibers is linked to severe respiratory diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Therefore, managing, removing, or working with asbestos cement undercloaking requires specialized knowledge and adherence to strict safety measures to prevent hazardous exposure.

asbestos gasket

Asbestos Gasket sampled during an inspection by Knight Specialist Services in a boiler room in Altrincham during an Asbestos Refurbishment and Demolition Survey.

Why did they use Asbestos Gaskets?

Asbestos gaskets, historically used in boilers and pipework, played a crucial role in providing a tight seal in high-temperature and high-pressure environments. These gaskets were made by combining asbestos fibers with other materials, capitalizing on asbestos’s excellent heat and chemical resistance properties. They were especially prevalent in industrial settings, where the durability and effectiveness of seals in boilers and pipes were paramount. However, the asbestos content in these gaskets poses significant health risks, particularly when they are disturbed during maintenance, repairs, or dismantling. The wear, cutting, or removal of these gaskets can release asbestos fibers into the air, and inhaling these fibers is known to cause serious respiratory illnesses, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Given these dangers, handling and replacing asbestos-containing gaskets requires specialized skills and strict adherence to safety regulations to prevent exposure and ensure the protection of workers and the surrounding environment.

asbestos cement flue pipe

Asbestos Cement Flue to a Boiler in Stockport that Knight Specialist Services Ltd sampled during an Asbestos Management Survey

Asbestos cement flues were extensively used in buildings for their advantageous properties, particularly in ventilation systems, chimneys, and exhausts. The key reason for their widespread use was the unique combination of asbestos fibers and cement, which provided exceptional durability and resistance to heat and corrosion. Asbestos, known for its fire-retardant and insulating capabilities, significantly enhanced the strength of cement, making these flues ideal for safely conducting hot gases and smoke out of buildings. The material’s ability to withstand high temperatures without degrading or releasing harmful substances made it a preferred choice in both residential and industrial settings. However, the presence of asbestos in these flues poses serious health risks if the material is damaged or deteriorates over time, releasing hazardous asbestos fibers into the air. This potential for asbestos exposure, which can lead to severe respiratory diseases, has led to strict regulations on the handling, removal, and replacement of asbestos cement flues.

asbestos blue coating to side cladding on a commercial unit

Galbestos (Bitumen Coating) to Metal Clad Panels that Knight Specialist Services sampled during an Asbestos Survey completed for a Client in Chorley.

Galbestos, a unique composite material, was developed as a combination of metal sheeting (usually steel or aluminum) and asbestos. The primary reason for its use was the synergistic properties of its components: the metal provided strength and durability, while the asbestos coating offered excellent insulation and fire-resistant qualities. This made Galbestos an ideal choice for roofing and siding in industrial and commercial buildings, especially in environments where both robustness and thermal insulation were critical. The asbestos coating also helped in protecting the metal from corrosion, thereby extending the life of the material in harsh weather conditions or corrosive environments. However, similar to other asbestos-containing materials, Galbestos poses health risks when the asbestos fibers become airborne, particularly during cutting, drilling, or demolition. This has led to strict regulations regarding its handling and removal, emphasising the need for safety precautions to prevent asbestos exposure.

asbestos insulating board

Asbestos Insulating Board identified within a cupboard a store room in a manufacturing premises subject to Demolition. Knight Specialist Services Ltd recomended immediate removal and environmental clean to the area.

Asbestos insulating board (AIB) and asbestos millboard were widely used in construction and industry for their exceptional insulating and fire-resistant properties. AIB was typically used for wall partitions, ceiling tiles, and fireproofing panels due to its ability to provide both insulation and fire protection. It was made by combining asbestos fibers with a cement or calcium silicate binder, creating a board that was lightweight yet robust. On the other hand, asbestos millboard, composed of compressed asbestos fibers, was used in applications requiring high heat resistance, such as in fire barriers, thermal insulation, and gaskets for high-temperature equipment. The key reason for their extensive use was the unparalleled effectiveness of asbestos in resisting heat and fire, coupled with its sound insulation capabilities. However, the presence of asbestos in these materials poses significant health risks, especially when they are cut, drilled, or damaged, releasing harmful asbestos fibers into the air. This danger has led to stringent controls on the use and removal of asbestos-containing products, emphasizing the need for safe handling practices and proper disposal.

 

Asbestos Cement Debris to floor

Asbestos Cement Debris identified during Knight Specialist Servives Ltd , Asbestos Management Survey to 2 nr industrial units in Wigan.

Asbestos cement debris, commonly found in the aftermath of demolishing or renovating older buildings, represents a significant health and environmental concern. This debris originates from asbestos cement products, which were widely used in the construction industry for roofing, pipes, and wall cladding, thanks to their durability and fire-resistant properties. When these structures are broken down, they produce debris that may contain asbestos fibers. While intact asbestos cement products often pose minimal health risks, the debris can be hazardous if the fibers become airborne and are inhaled. This exposure can lead to serious respiratory diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Therefore, handling, transporting, and disposing of asbestos cement debris require specialized procedures and adherence to strict safety regulations to mitigate the risk of asbestos fiber release and ensure environmental and public health safety.

Asbestos Roof Tiles

Asbestos roof tiles identified during a survey Knight Specialist Services carried out in Stockport, Cheshire in 2020.  The building was subject to a full refurbishment.  The asbestos roof tiles were in good condition and rmained intact during refurbishment.

Asbestos roof tiles were a popular choice in construction for several decades due to their excellent durability and fire-resistant properties. Made by combining asbestos fibers with cement or other binding materials, these tiles provided a robust, long-lasting roofing solution. The addition of asbestos, known for its thermal insulation and resistance to heat, made these tiles an ideal material for protecting buildings from various weather conditions while also reducing the risk of fire spread. However, the use of asbestos in roof tiles has raised significant health concerns. When these tiles deteriorate or are damaged, they can release asbestos fibers into the air, posing a risk to anyone who inhales them. Prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers is known to cause serious respiratory illnesses, including lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma. Consequently, the installation, maintenance, and removal of asbestos roof tiles require careful handling and adherence to safety guidelines to minimize the risk of asbestos exposure.

Asbestos Cement Panel

Asbestos cement flat sheets identified during an Asbestos Demolition Survey in Failsworth, Manchester in 2021.  The property was subject to deemolition, with manby forms of asbestos products identified during the survey.

Asbestos cement flat sheets, once a staple in British construction, were highly regarded for their combination of durability, fire resistance, and affordability. These sheets, created by reinforcing cement with asbestos fibres, provided a strong, yet lightweight construction material, ideal for a variety of applications such as roofing, wall cladding, and underlining. The asbestos component, known for its excellent insulative properties and resistance to heat, made these sheets particularly suitable for both industrial and residential buildings. However, the discovery of health risks associated with asbestos exposure – including serious lung conditions like asbestosis and mesothelioma – led to a decline in their use. In the UK, strict regulations now govern the handling and disposal of asbestos cement products, including these flat sheets, particularly during demolition or renovation activities where the risk of releasing asbestos fibres into the air is heightened.

Black Asbestos Toilet Cistern

An old Asbestos Toilet Cistern (Bakelite), that Knight Specialist Services Ltd found in an old warehouse that was being demolished.  A very tough material and is of low risk due to the matrix of the material, however still poses a risk due to the asbestos content within the cistern.

In the UK, asbestos was once commonly used in the manufacturing of toilet cisterns, often in conjunction with Bakelite, a type of early plastic. Asbestos, renowned for its durability and resistance to heat and chemicals, was added to strengthen the Bakelite, resulting in a robust and long-lasting product. These asbestos-reinforced Bakelite cisterns were popular in British homes and public buildings for many years, appreciated for their sturdiness and low maintenance. However, the eventual recognition of the health hazards posed by asbestos, particularly when it becomes airborne and inhaled, led to a reassessment of its use in such household items. Asbestos exposure is known to cause serious respiratory diseases, including asbestosis and mesothelioma, prompting strict regulations on the use and disposal of asbestos-containing materials in the UK. As a result, asbestos toilet cisterns have been phased out, replaced by safer, modern materials that pose no such health risks.

Asbestos Paper to Pipework

Asbestos Paper and Cardboard – Identified during a survey on a single dwelling in Sale, Manchester. 

In the UK, asbestos paper and cardboard were once widely utilised in a range of applications due to their heat-resistant and insulating properties. These products were made by combining asbestos fibres with paper or cardboard materials, creating a versatile and effective solution for insulation and fireproofing. Asbestos paper was commonly used for insulating electrical equipment, such as in electrical panels and around wiring, to prevent overheating and reduce fire risks. It also found use in heat-resistant mats and gaskets. Similarly, asbestos cardboard served as insulation in heating systems and was often used in construction for fireproofing purposes. However, the health hazards associated with asbestos – notably its link to serious respiratory diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma when inhaled – led to a significant decline in its use. Strict UK regulations now control the handling, removal, and disposal of asbestos-containing materials to safeguard public health and prevent asbestos exposure.

Asbestos Pipe Insulation

Asbestos Insulation identified to some pipework at a Fire Station in Stockport during some demolition works.  The pipe was buried under the ground and was only evvident during the mechanical demolition and lifting of the concrete slabs.

In the UK, asbestos pipe insulation was widely used for its superior heat resistance and insulating properties. This type of insulation came in various forms to suit different applications and pipe configurations. One common form was asbestos lagging, a fibrous material that was wrapped or sprayed around pipes, particularly in industrial and commercial settings, for effective thermal insulation. Another form included pre-formed asbestos pipe sections, designed to fit snugly around pipes, offering both insulation and protection. Additionally, asbestos felt and tape were used for insulating joints and bends in pipework, ensuring complete coverage. These various forms of asbestos insulation were crucial in preventing heat loss and protecting against fire hazards in high-temperature systems. However, the recognition of the health risks associated with asbestos, especially when disturbed and its fibres become airborne, led to stringent regulations regarding its use and removal. Inhaled asbestos fibres are linked to severe respiratory illnesses, including asbestosis and mesothelioma, necessitating careful handling and replacement of asbestos pipe insulation under controlled conditions in the UK.