A Guide to Asbestos in the Home

Please note that ARCA are unable to provide detailed advice to householders regarding domestic asbestos, due to the need to assess condition and potential for fibre release when managing asbestos materials. If householders require further information to that which is given below it is recommended that they seek professional advice from a company offering such services. ATaC members can usually provide such a service. If removal of asbestos is required ARCA maintains a list of licensed contractors willing to work in domestic premises ( click here to view this list ).

However there are some general guidelines which should be followed. This guide is designed to assist householders in dealing with asbestos in the home. Before attempting to remove any asbestos product you are advised to read this page, and carefully follow the advice given.

Local Councils may well have there own asbestos policy relating to Council Housing. Council tenants should not remove any asbestos from the structure of buildings but should contact their Local Council for advice.

What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral of which there are 3 main types of fibres, chrysotile (white), amosite (brown), and crocidolite (blue).

Asbestos products are only dangerous when damaged or worn because they can release dust into the air. Asbestos dust is made up of tiny fibres which, if breathed in, are harmful and can cause eventual damage to the lungs even many years after the first exposure. The level of exposure at which asbestos fibres cause ill health is not known, what is known is that the more asbestos dust a person is exposed to the greater the risk. It is therefore essential to keep the release of asbestos dust to a minimum. Remember the dust is harmful so asbestos products should always be handled carefully.

Why is asbestos a problem?
When asbestos materials age or become damaged they can release fibres into the air. These can be breathed deep into the lung where they may stay for a long time, causing possible damage. When very high levels of these fibres are breathed in there is a risk of lung diseases, including cancer. People who have worked with asbestos for many years as part of their job or have washed the dusty clothing of those who worked with asbestos are most likely to be affected. Workplace regulations now protect such people.

Is everyone exposed to asbestos?
There is a very low level of fibres in the air everywhere because asbestos has been used widely. Exposure to this low level of fibres is unlikely to harm people’s health. Levels of fibres may be higher in buildings containing asbestos materials, especially where the materials are damaged. It is very unlikely that the levels of asbestos fibres found in buildings will be harmful, but if you have damaged asbestos materials in your home you should seek advice on appropriate action to take. High, short-term exposures to asbestos fibres can occur during DIY work. For this reason, try not to raise dust when working with materials which might contain asbestos, and avoid sanding or drilling.

Where might I find asbestos?
Asbestos is used in a multitude of materials that can be found in and around many homes. Building materials containing asbestos were widely used from 1930 to around 1980, particularly from the 1960s onwards. So houses and flats built or refurbished at this time may contain asbestos materials. Asbestos has also been used in some heat-resistant household products, such as oven gloves and ironing boards. The use of asbestos in these products decreased greatly around the mid-1980s, and since 1993 the use of asbestos in most products has been banned. 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.

The types of asbestos materials that may be found in homes are described below:-

Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB) - Asbestos content 20-45 percent
Insulating board has 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. Asbestos insulation Board is used in some warm air heating systems and also for lining cupboards which house the central heating unit. Certain storage heaters may also contain asbestos material. There are several modern substitutes which are now used as an alternative to asbestos boarding. It is unlikely to be found in buildings constructed after 1982.

Asbestos lagging - Asbestos content 55-100 percent
Asbestos lagging has been used for thermal insulation of pipes and boilers. It was widely used in public buildings and system-built flats during the 1960s to early 1970s in areas such as boiler houses and heating plants. Asbestos lagging is very rarely found in homes, especially those constructed after the mid 1970s. The use of asbestos for thermal insulation was banned in 1986.

Sprayed Coating - Asbestos content up to 85 percent
Sprayed asbestos coatings were used for fire protection of structural steel and are commonly found in system-built flats built 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.

Asbestos-cement products - Asbestos content mainly 10-15 percent, but sometimes up to 40 percent
Asbestos-cement is the most widely used asbestos material. 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.

You do not need a 'licence' to handle products containing asbestos cement.

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.

Heating appliances and domestic equipment
Asbestos was used in some warm air heating systems, electric storage heaters (up to 1976), in flameless catalytic gas heaters (up to 1988) and some early ‘coal effect’ gas fires. A list of manufacturers and models of domestic heaters and boilers known to contain asbestos components are listed on the asbestos information centre website. It has also been used in domestic equipment, such as oven gloves, ironing boards, seals on cooker doors and fire blankets.

Vehicles
Some vehicle brake shoes or pads contain asbestos. When carrying out work on the braking system try to avoid breathing the dust or if possible wear a suitable mask. Do not under any circumstances use an air hose to clear the dust.

Remember, asbestos is always there for a purpose. It is used either to provide heat resistance (as behind gas fires) or provide rigidity (as in asbestos cement garage roofs), and if removed it should always be replaced by a suitable non-asbestos product.

Work which will disturb insulation board, lagging or sprayed asbestos must be carried out by licenced asbestos contractors.

Identification
Identification is not easy as you cannot tell if a particular material contains asbestos by looking at it with the naked eye. The colour of the material does not indicate the type of asbestos, which may be present. The ONLY way to be certain if a product does contain asbestos is for a reputable laboratory to analyse it. There are a number of private laboratories, which can provide this service.

If I find asbestos what should I do?
If asbestos is found in the home, look for signs of damage or dust being released by the material. If any asbestos found is in good condition and not worn or damaged, it can be left in place. Added protection can be given by painting with emulsion paint, but remember to use an alkali resistant primer or coating for asbestos cement products. If the asbestos is damaged or giving off dust it should be carefully removed. Large amounts should only be removed by a specialist contractor. Work on sprayed asbestos, lagging or insulation board should also be left to the specialists. Smaller amounts of asbestos cement can be removed safely by following the instructions below.

Removal of small amounts of asbestos cement
Removal of small amounts of asbestos cement can be carried out safely if these guidelines are followed:

1) Wear a dust mask approved for asbestos obtained from safety equipment suppliers.
2) Wear a disposable overall.
3) Keep other people away from the work area.
4) Spread a plastic sheet under the working area to collect dust.
5) Remember to keep the release of asbestos dust to a minimum by wetting the material (providing there is no contact with electricity).
6) Remove whole sheets or components; do not break them up. Clean up settled dust with a damp cloth and seal in a plastic bag whilst still damp.
7) Do not use a domestic vacuum cleaner, as fine asbestos dust will pass through the filter (industrial cleaners suitable for asbestos can be hired).
8) Wash well afterwards.


IMPORTANT
Do not saw, drill, break, scrape, brush or screw any asbestos sheeting.

No attempt should be made to dismantle gas or electric appliances. Your local gas or electrical supplier may be able to give you advice on whether a particular system contains any asbestos.

How do I dispose of asbestos?

To dispose of small quantities of dusty or loose asbestos waste, dampen it to stop dust escaping and seal it in a strong plastic bag marked ASBESTOS. Oven gloves, simmering pads and similar small items should also be sealed in a suitable plastic bag as soon as they start to show signs of wear. Large asbestos cement sheets should not be broken up but should be wrapped in polythene sheeting and marked ASBESTOS. Do not under any circumstances put waste asbestos in your dustbin or refuse chute. Many local councils have provision for the disposal of small quantities of domestic asbestos waste. You should contact your local council waste division to enquire about the facilities available. If you live in England visit the directgov website to find your local council and closest disposal facility. The enforcing authority responsible for asbestos waste is the Environment Agency. They can be contacted on their help line number 0845 9333111 or at www.environment-agency.gov.uk.

This guide was published by ARCA on the ARCA website

© Copyright Polystar Plastics Ltd 2009-20011