What is Asbestos?

What is Asbestos?

Until 20 years ago most of hadn’t even heard of Asbestos until its hazardous properties were highly publicised in the mid 1980s.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with long fibrous crystals. It is these fibres that cause Asbestos’s toxicity due to the harm they cause when inhaled into the lungs. Inhalation of Asbestos can cause a number of very serious illnesses such as lung cancer and Pneumoconiosis.

Historically Asbestos has been used for many different purposes. In fact the Greeks nicknamed Asbestos the miracle mineral due to its versatility and ability to withstand extreme heat. Most famously Asbestos was utilised in construction but its uses were far more widespread  – the material’s heat resistance made it an ideal electrical insulator for wires and cabling for ovens and its strength was appreciated in the weaving of fabrics for clothing and table cloths etc.  By the mid 20th century Asbestos was being used everywhere, examples of products utilising Asbestos are as follows:  roof tiles, flooring, pipe insulation, ceiling insulation, lawn furniture, cement for fire places, brake pads for vehicles, protective clothing for firemen etc.

Unfortunately the real dangers of Asbestos were not fully understood until recently, by which time a high percentage of buildings, particularly those erected in the late 1800s and early 1900s, already contained a significant amount in their walls and roofs.  Before Asbestos’s toxicity was brought to light it had been considered an ideal building material – it was known to be highly fire retardant, have high electricity resistance and, most importantly, was easy and cheap to use.Â

Sadly heavy use of asbestos in years gone by has exposed past generations of construction workers, carpenters and roofers to asbestos and many now suffer lung disease as a result.  Asbestos is only hazardous when the fibres become airborne because it is then that they can be inhaled. Once inhaled the fibres cannot be expelled due to their size, so they become lodged in the lung tissue.

Asbestos is now banned, either in whole or in part, in 60 countries worldwide including all of those in the European Union.

Asbestos Regulation

In 1970 the Asbestos industry maintained a voluntary ban on Blue Asbestos (the most harmful type of Asbestos) in its raw form. The ban did not, however, cover products containing the material. This ban was extended to Brown Asbestos (considered the 2nd most dangerous type) in 1980.

It wasn’t until 1986 that the UK Government imposed an official ban on the two most harmful forms of Asbestos, and any products that contained them. The official policy was introduced to: “Prohibit the most hazardous forms and activities, namely the importation, supply and use of blue and brown (crocidolite and amosite) asbestos, asbestos spraying and the installation of asbestos insulation, License most work with asbestos insulation or coatings and Strictly control the remaining risks to anyone working with asbestos (and others affected by them)”.

In 2006 the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 came into force. These new regulations combine the three previous sets of regulations covering the prohibition, control and licensing of Abestos.

The regulations prohibit the importation, supply and use of all three forms of Asbestos – Blue, Brown and white.

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