What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring, fibrous silicate mineral. Once mined the asbestos rock mineral is crushed producing fibres of different lengths and characteristics. The three types of asbestos which have been used in the UK are: Crocidolite (blue asbestos); Amosite (brown asbestos) and Chrysotile (white asbestos). It is not possible to identify the type of asbestos by the colour as it is often incorporated with other materials. To be certain that a material contains asbestos it should be analysed in a laboratory.

Why was Asbestos used?

The fibres being strong and resistant to heat and chemicals has led to their use in a wide range of building materials and household products, often as fireproofing. White asbestos was most commonly used in domestic appliances and buildings. Brown asbestos was used in thermal insulation up to the late 1960's and in various sprayed applications and insulating boards until the middle and late 1970's respectively. Blue asbestos was used for insulation lagging and sprayed coating. The marketing, supply and new use of blue and brown asbestos was prohibited in 1985 and white asbestos in 1999.

Why is asbestos dangerous?

When asbestos containing materials are damaged or deteriorate with age they can release fibres into the air. The shape and size of the fibres enables them to penetrate deep into the lungs, where they can stay for a long time causing possible damage to lung tissue.

Blue and brown asbestos is thought to be the most dangerous forms due to their size and shape. Asbestos has been widely used and as a result there is a low level of asbestos in the air everywhere. While asbestos is potentially a very hazardous material, the risk to the public from asbestos in the home is low, however levels of fibres may be higher in buildings containing asbestos materials.

The greater risk to health arises when asbestos is damaged or if the material is drilled, sawn, scrubbed or sanded. If you suspect that a material might contain asbestos do not carry out work on it but seek expert advice as DIY work can cause high, short-term exposures to asbestos fibres.

There are three main conditions associated with exposure to asbestos: asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma and these are nearly always industrial diseases. The diseases may take between 10 and 60 years to develop to the point where they can be diagnosed.

Who is at risk?

Anyone who uses your premises, who disturbs asbestos that has deteriorated or been damaged and is releasing fibres, can be at risk. In fact, anyone whose work involves drilling, sawing or cutting into the fabric of premises could potentially be at risk. They may all breathe in asbestos fibres during their day-to-day work. It is now thought possible that repeated low exposures, such as those which could occur during routine repair work, may also lead to cancers. The scientific evidence on exactly what exposures cause disease is unclear. But we do know the more asbestos fibres breathed in, the greater the risk to health. That is why it is important that ACMs are identified and that everyone who works with them should take appropriate precautions

Where is Asbestos Found?

Building materials containing asbestos were widely used from 1930 to around 1980, particularly from the 1960's onwards. So houses and flats built or refurbished at this time may contain asbestos materials. However homes built since the mid 1980's are very unlikely to contain asbestos.

What types of asbestos materials may be found in homes?

Asbestos cement products (Asbestos content mainly 10-15%, but sometimes up to 40%).

Asbestos cement is the most widely used asbestos material and numerous enquiries are received by this Department each week from residents seeking advice. It is found in many types of building as profiled sheets for roofing and wall-cladding, in flat sheets and partition boards for linings to walls and ceilings, in bath panels, soffit boards, fire surrounds, flue pipes, cold water tanks and as roofing tiles and slates.

It has been commonly used as roofing and cladding for garages and sheds and also in guttering and drainpipes. Asbestos cement products are unlikely to release high levels of fibres because of the way they are made, unless they are subject to extreme abrasion. Damage from weathering may also release a small amount of fibres.

Asbestos Insulating Board (Asbestos content 20-45%)

Insulating boards have been used for fire protection, heat and sound insulation. It is particularly common in 1960s and 1970s system-built housing and is found in materials such as ducts, infill panels, ceiling tiles, wall lining, bath panels and partitions. It is unlikely to be found in buildings constructed after 1982.

Asbestos Lagging (Asbestos content up to 85%)

Sprayed asbestos coatings were used for fire protection of structural steel and are commonly found in system-built flats during the 1960s. The coatings were mainly applied around the core of the building such as service ducts, lift shafts, etc. Use stopped in 1974 and the spraying of asbestos has been prohibited since 1986. Sprayed asbestos has since been removed from many buildings, or sealed to prevent fibres being released.

Other Building Materials and Products

Asbestos has been used in a variety of other building materials, for example, in decorative coatings such as textured paints and plasters. These are still widely in place but supply and application has been prohibited since 1988. Plastic floor tiles, cushion flooring, roofing felts, tapes, ropes, felts and blankets can also contain asbestos. Loft or cavity wall insulation does not contain asbestos.

Heating Appliances and Domestic Equipment

Asbestos was used in some warm air heating systems, electric storage heaters (up to 1976) and in flameless catalytic gas heaters (up to 1988) and some early 'coal effect' gas fires. It has also been used in domestic equipment, such as oven gloves and ironing boards, seals on cooker doors and fire blankets.

Asbestos has also been used in brake linings and pads. It is not always easy to tell whether a product contains asbestos, as modern asbestos-free materials often look similar. Remember it is usually older products that contain asbestos.

How can I identify products or materials containing Asbestos?

Since 1976 British manufactures have put labels on their products to show they contain asbestos, and since 1986 all products containing asbestos carry the European label. The supplier or manufacturer of a product may be able to tell you if it contains asbestos. Often homes built at the same time contain similar materials - your neighbours may know if surveys for asbestos have been done.

Finally, if you are unsure whether a material or product within your home contains asbestos and you need to work on it or remove it you may wish to assume that it does and treat the material accordingly. Alternatively you may wish to seek professional advice and have a sample of the material analysed in a laboratory, this is where a company such as Lamas Thermaclad Ltd. can be of assistance.

What should I do if I suspect there is Asbestos in my home?

Asbestos materials in good condition that cannot readily be damaged are often best left where they are because removal can lead to higher levels of fibres in the air for some time afterwards. Check the condition of asbestos materials from time to time to make sure they have not become damaged or started to deteriorate.

If you are planning home improvements or maintenance and have asbestos in your home, always inform builders, maintenance workers or contractors before they start work.

Asbestos can be found in the following domestic and public items:

Indoor Asbestos Cement

Indoors, asbestos cement should be sealed by painting with an alkali-resistant paint such as PVA emulsion, or primed with an alkali-resistant primer and then covered with normal undercoat and gloss paint. Asbestos cement or board should not be sanded before painting.

Textured Coatings

If you have textured coating containing asbestos, it is best to leave it alone and cover it with a coat of emulsion. Stripping it off is difficult and potentially dangerous and should only be done by licensed contractors. However small quantities can be soaked so that they become a soggy mass before being gently scraped off.

Storage Heaters

Some electric storage heaters, generally those manufactured before 1975, contain asbestos. Do not dismantle the storage heater to check whether this is the case. Generally the heaters are perfectly safe as long as they are not damaged or tampered with. If you wish to have the heaters removed this must be done by licensed contractors such as Lamas Thermaclad Ltd.

Catalytic Heaters

Some catalytic heaters, burning butane and propane without a visible flame, may contain an asbestos panel if manufactured before 1983. Contact the manufacturer of the appliance or your gas supplier for advice.

Brake Linings

Car brake and clutch linings and disc brake pads in older cars contain asbestos. Replace brake linings with care if you are doing it yourself. Use a damp cloth to wipe dust out of the drum. Do not blow it out. Put the cloth in a sealed and labelled plastic bag for disposal Wear a disposable dust mask 'CE' marked to EN149 with FFP2 particulate filters). It is now illegal in the UK to install asbestos brake linings in vehicles.


Some older cookers may have asbestos filler ropes around the inside of the oven door. If it appears to be in a poor condition contact the manufacturer for advice.

Gutters and Corrugated Roofs

Keep gutters and drains serving asbestos roofs clear of debris. Silted up gutters can contain a high percentage of asbestos fibres. Do not sweep with wire brushes to remove moss, as you will be sweeping off fibres as well. Asbestos materials that are slightly damaged can sometimes be repaired by sealing or enclosing the material - SEEK ADVICE on the most appropriate action.

Asbestos materials that are badly damaged or deteriorating can release dust and should be removed. Some asbestos materials (sprayed asbestos, lagging or insulating boards) must always be removed by contractors with a special licence issued by the government. These licensed contractors have to follow regulations to ensure asbestos is safely removed. Sometimes it is dangerous to have asbestos materials removed - for instance fire-protection materials - without replacing them with a suitable alternative.

How should I dispose of Asbestos?

Small items of asbestos around the home can be disposed of if you are careful. Items such as ironing board rests and simmering pads may be damped down and placed in a tightly sealed plastic bag. If you are taking down a shed or garage containing asbestos cement sheeting do not break up large sheets but keep them whole. They do not need to be sealed in bags but should be doubled wrapped in heavy gauge plastic sheeting (available from most builders merchants) and clearly labelled "ASBESTOS".

Do not put asbestos waste in a dustbin or skip. It is classified as hazardous waste and must continued to be handled with respect until it can be safely disposed of by contractors licensed to carry asbestos.