Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral of which there are three main types of fibres, Chrysotile (white), Amosite (brown), and Crocidolite (blue). Some rarer types also exist.
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.
When asbestos materials age or become damaged they can release fibres into the air. These can be breathed deep into the lungs 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.
There is a very low level of fibres in the air everywhere because asbestos has been widely used. 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 property you should seek advice on appropriate action to take.
High, short-term exposures to asbestos fibres can occur during decorating and maintenance work. For this reason, try not to raise dust when working with materials which might contain asbestos, and avoid sanding or drilling.
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, that may be present. The ONLY way to be certain if a product does contain asbestos is for a reputable laboratory to analyse it.
Before the hazards of asbestos fibre inhalation were fully recognised, fire-resistant asbestos was the safety material of choice for builders and property renovators for much of the 20th Century.
Its strong binding qualities were also often used in the manufacture of other construction materials and, as a consequence, asbestos can be found in many areas of commercial property: