What Are The Dangers of Asbestos?

Anyone working in a trade involving working in old buildings is warned of the dangers of asbestos. An employer has a duty of care towards their employees, but what about asbestos around the house? Homeowners renovating old houses need to be aware of the dangers too. But what is asbestos and why is it so dangerous?

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is actually a naturally occurring group of minerals. That doesn’t sound harmful or scary, does it? When the minerals form fibres, these are strong and heat resistant.

It has been used for thousands of years in household goods, even things like pottery. But like so many things, we didn’t realise the dangers at the time.

The problem for us in Britain is that during the industrial revolution, the use of asbestos peaked and it was used everywhere. It was widely used in construction and that is still causing us problems today.

Why is Asbestos Harmful to Health?

Asbestos is one of the most harmful things we can be exposed to. Sadly, many people don’t know they have been exposed to asbestos until too late. Symptoms can appear as late as 30 years after exposure.

Asbestos was routinely used in walls, tiles, corrugated roofing panels and lagging. You can’t see if asbestos is present so it is impossible for people to detect. It is generally safe until it is disturbed.

Then asbestos articles are released into the air and when breathed in could stay in the lungs for years. Once the fibres have been breathed in, they can’t be removed. This can then cause lung diseases including cancer from which there is no known cure.

Exposure to Asbestos

Unbelievably, as we have been aware of the dangers for years, around 20 tradesmen a week die due to past exposure. Buildings built or renovated up to as recently as 2000 may contain asbestos as it wasn’t actually completely banned until 1999.

People working in old buildings are potentially at risk of disturbing old asbestos. Those worried about a property can arrange for an asbestos survey in Kent or London for a report, support, and advice.

The asbestos is disturbed primarily by cutting or drilling and can even be found in paint and coatings. If working in a house that could contain asbestos, don’t cut or drill until you are sure it is safe. There are global concerns, especially in Australia, that the increase in people DIYing, will lead to an increase in those being exposed to asbestos.

Who Is At Risk From Asbestos?

It seems scary to think that your house may contain asbestos. But the people most at risk of suffering from the lung diseases caused by asbestos are those that have worked with it. People who made asbestos products have the highest risk but others working unaware in buildings with asbestos such as builders are also at risk. Especially people who did these jobs 25-30 years ago when we were not so aware of the dangers and employers weren’t so strict about complying with health and safety regulations. There has even been a recent case of someone who is now suffering from lung disease from being exposed to the asbestos fibres on her husband’s clothes.

Nowadays, workers are protected by strict regulations and homeowners should be aware of these too. As previously mentioned, asbestos is very hard to recognise and was used in such a variety of products that it is very difficult to know if something contains asbestos.

It is worth remembering that asbestos is still an issue, even in residential homes. It will be an ongoing problem for many years to come. You can get further information on asbestos from your local council if you are concerned.