January 19, 2012

What is Asbestos and Where Has it Commonly Been Used

Asbestos is a natural fibrous mineral, and it is mined in a number of countries across the world.  Historically, it has been a popular mineral to use in construction due to the fact that it is durable, flexible, resistant to chemical attack, an excellent insulator and able to withstand high temperatures.  Even the name itself comes from the Greek language where it means 'un-extinguishable'.
In the UK, asbestos has been used since the industrial revolution when it was first used as insulation.  Since then, it has been used in various applications such as fire retardant coatings, bricks, pipe lagging and lining of boilers.  
What is Asbestos and Where Has it Commonly Been Used
There are three main forms of asbestos that occur naturally.  The first is known as 'chrysotile', or white asbestos, and is by far the most commonly used type.   It was usually mixed with cement to form corrugated roof sheets, or used to make flat sheets for walls and floors.  Extremely flexible, it can be spun and woven like cloth which made it ideal as pipe insulation or even fireproof clothing.  Considered to be dangerous to health, it was banned from the UK in 1999.  It is estimated that this type accounts for up to 95% of all asbestos found in buildings. 
The second type of asbestos is called 'amosite', or brown asbestos.  In buildings it is most commonly found covering steel as fire protection or in walls as sound proofing.  This type of asbestos is also considered harmful, and the import of amosite was banned in 1986.
The third form of asbestos is called 'crocidolite', or blue asbestos.  It is a harder and less flexible form than the other types, but it is extremely strong and has a high acid resistance.  It is considered to be the most dangerous of all asbestos types, and its use was strictly controlled from 1969 until it was finally banned in 1986.
It is essential that when asbestos it is found it is removed and disposed of correctly by a professional, licensed asbestos removal company, as the removal process can expose you to health risks if the correct procedures are not followed.
As asbestos has been used for over a century, it has been included in thousands of products.  The list below gives some of the common uses for asbestos containing products so that you know what to be careful of when carrying out alterations to a property.  While asbestos is generally safe if left alone, any damage can lead to the release of fibres which are dangerous to health.
Roof tiles and panels - asbestos is commonly found mixed with concrete to make either flat or corrugated panels.  They are often seen as the roofs or walls of outbuildings and garages.
Roofing felt - asbestos can be found combined with bitumen in the felt often found covering flat roofs, where it gives flexibility and insulation.  Some bitumen products containing asbestos were also used to make guttering.
Lagging - adding asbestos to cloth allowed it to be used to lag pipework and prevent heat loss or frost damage.  Similar material was also used for fire blankets and some protective clothing.
Sound proofing - sprayed asbestos can often be found in under floors and in ceiling voids where it acts to prevent noise pollution.
Electrical insulation - Asbestos paper has been used to wrap electrical cabling and as the back of fuse boxes because of its non-flammable properties.
Spray coating - spraying asbestos on structural components of buildings provides protections against damage from heat and cold.
Loose packing - wall and ceiling cavities in older buildings may contain asbestos as it was frequently used as insulation.
Door linings - a flat sheet of asbestos under door panels provides resistance in the event of fire.
While this list gives you an idea of what to look for, it is not complete and if you are in any doubt a qualified asbestos surveyor should be contacted for advice.  They will be able to assess the situation and advise you accordingly.  If in any doubt ask a professional asbestos removal company to undertake an asbestos survey so that you are certain of what you dealing with before you start removing anything that could significantly harm your health.