Asbestos-containing products are mainly used for construction and insulation.
Popular throughout the 20th century, asbestos was used for building and insulation with natural resistance to fire, heat and electricity. It was also popular for sound absorption and available at a relatively low cost. However, from the 1980s asbestos inhalation was linked to several serious ailments including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. This was a massive moment for society and people across the world swore of asbestos.
Fortunately, we have found several better alternatives to asbestos.
Even with these changes, conditions can take years to develop and asbestos is still responsible for thousands of deaths a year with the government’s Health and Safety Executive estimating there were 2,595 mesothelioma cases in 2016 alone.
Adhesives are a common material used throughout the construction industry. When nails and screws are impractical, builders turn to adhesives that provide a strong bond. Historically, builders would use a mixture of asbestos fibres and glues to create a durable, almost fireproof adhesive, sealant and joint-filler. This was then used on floors, wall panels, interior fixtures, ceilings, roofs, air ducts, pipes, boilers and furnaces.
This adhesive is also used as a construction mastic or gunning mix. Gunning mix is a unique adhesive applied to metals, masonry plastics, or wood as a repair compound. It is also be used to smooth rough surfaces or irregularities.
Asbestos makeup has made it a low-cost solution to a wide range of electrical components. From ebonized panels and electrical shielding to flash guard paper, wire insulation and cable wraps, manufacturers would mix asbestos fibres into cement, plastic, cloth, paper and millboard.
Electrical components are in virtually every building in the UK, many of which haven’t been updated or checked in decades. This poses a threat to construction workers, homeowners, electricians and demolition crews. Sawing, drilling, sanding or breaking electrical components can release asbestos fibres into the air.
Asbestos is one of the most popular materials for insulation. It is resistant to heat, electricity and chemical corrosion. These factors have made it ubiquitous across buildings of all shapes and sizes.
The most common places you’ll find asbestos insulation is in loose-fill insulation in hollow spaces, insulation wrappings, block insulation, and spray-on insulation. This wide selection of materials means that asbestos could be present in insulation from the roof down to your cellar. Old homes and commercial buildings potentially pose a risk when ageing asbestos insulation is disturbed through maintenance, renovation or wear and tear.
Asbestos is extremely resistant to heat. A fluffy, fibre-like material, the air between asbestos fibres slows down the transfer of heat through the material. This made it the perfect addition to fireproofing materials, reducing the chance of fires and delaying the burn time. The fibres also made it easy to combine with materials like paper, cement, fabric and coatings.
Asbestos can be present in tar paper, cement, wall panels, paint, fire doors, roof tiles, and wooden frames. Asbestos has been used for fireproofing as recently as the 1970s and as a result, is likely to be found in older buildings rather than new builds.
For more information on common materials that may contain asbestos consult the HSE’s asbestos guide. This breaks down every possible place you may find asbestos.
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