Asbestos containing materials: Should they be eradicated or left in place?

Asbestos containing materials

Asbestos in residential and non-domestic buildings has been a major health concern for many decades, and questions have been asked as to why asbestos containing materials (ACMs) cannot be removed en masse.

Asbestos was widely used in the construction industry until its UK ban in 1999, with asbestos containing materials providing insulation and protection from fire, but they left a legacy of life-threatening illness for many who were exposed to the fibres and dust.

The long latency period of asbestos disease means symptoms don’t typically manifest until several decades after the initial exposure. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures show 2,595 deaths occurred from asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma, in 2016¹ with figures not expected to decline until the end of the decade.

So how is the issue of asbestos currently dealt with in this country?

Asbestos containing materials in the UK – what is the official policy?

Current government policy is to leave asbestos in place as long as the materials encasing it are not degrading or damaged, as opposed to removing it completely from a building. This strategy has invited criticism from various quarters, however, particularly from those campaigning for action to be taken in relation to the high levels of asbestos in schools.

At face value, eradicating asbestos appears to be the natural solution to a dangerous problem. A national strategy of asbestos eradication would remove the ongoing risk of exposure that we currently face, but there are other aspects that would need evaluation.

Managing asbestos vs removing it

Here are just a few issues to consider about removing asbestos containing materials:

  • The need to close down buildings whilst asbestos removal takes place

Hospital ward closures would pose a particularly difficult logistical problem to solve given the current wait for beds in many hospitals.

  • Asbestos containing materials may form part of the structure of a building

In this case, removal may not be possible without demolishing all or part of the building.

  • Asbestos removal can be a costly process

A national eradication programme would be costly – this issue should also be measured against the current risk and the long-term health cost of leaving asbestos in place, however.

  • The risk of exposure for asbestos contractors

Accidents happen, and with a wide scale programme of asbestos removal, the risk of exposure is increased, particularly for the contractors involved but also for those working or living nearby.

  • A low level of asbestos fibres and dust would remain for a while

After asbestos containing materials have been removed low levels of dust and fibres can remain for several months, causing potential harm or preventing use of the building during this time.

Clearly, there isn’t a straightforward or easy answer to the asbestos problem. Asbestos containing materials can be found in so many areas within our older buildings, posing varying degrees of risk.

If you would like more information on dealing with asbestos, our highly experienced consultants can help. Acorn Analytical Services is a well-established and reliable consultancy offering a range of services including asbestos surveys, asbestos testing, repair and encapsulation of asbestos containing materials, and project management. Please contact one of our expert team to find out more.

Neil Munro

I work in a dual role at Acorn Analytical Services focused primarily on growing and leading the business from our Northampton office base. My focus is on overseeing all sales, marketing and financial activities from Northampton. I assist clients with high-level asbestos management strategies and training. Together with Ian Stone I host our weekly podcast – Asbestos Knowledge Empire and I'm Co-author of Asbestos The Dark Arts and Fear and Loathing of Health and Safety.

Need Help? Request a Call Back

Request a call back from one of our expert Asbestos Consultants who will help you identify what you need

More Asbestos Articles

Sam Savage Commercial Director

Commercial Director Sam Savage talks about his first 3 weeks

Last month we announced Sam Savage had joined Acorn Analytical Services as our Commercial Director, working out of the Northampton office and covering the South of England. Sam joins the business from an another asbestos consultancy where he worked for more than 20 years, working his way up from a trainee right through to contracts … Read more

Asbestos Awareness Training

Asbestos Awareness Training – the importance of practising what we preach

At Acorn, we work hard to educate everyone about the dangers of asbestos. One of the ways we do this is through our UKATA accredited Asbestos Awareness training courses. Being a UKATA Approved Training Provider not only demonstrates that Acorn Analytical Services is committed to delivering the highest standard of asbestos training, it also means … Read more

Have you ever wondered what the consequences could be if a company fails to protect workers from asbestos exposure?

Asbestos exposure risk leads to jail sentences

Have you ever wondered what the consequences could be if a company fails to protect workers from asbestos exposure? At Acorn, we work hard to educate the public about the dangers of asbestos which remains the world’s biggest workplace killer. When asbestos is disturbed it releases tiny fibres into the air which can cause a … Read more

MPs want asbestos to be removed from public and commercial buildings within the next 40 years.

MPs fight for asbestos to be removed from public buildings

Last week, MPs called for all asbestos to be removed from public and commercial buildings within the next 40 years. The Government’s Work and Pensions Select Committee wants the asbestos to be removed because the substance remains the biggest workplace killer in the UK with around 5,000 deaths linked to it every year. Even though … Read more

During Global Asbestos Awareness Week charities and organisations around the world will be working hard to raise awareness about the dangers of asbestos which remains the globe’s biggest workplace killer.

Hitting back at hidden killer during Global Asbestos Awareness Week 2022

Today marks the start of Global Asbestos Awareness Week. Between now and April 7, charities and organisations around the world will be working hard during Global Asbestos Awareness Week to raise awareness about the dangers of asbestos which remains the globe’s biggest workplace killer. In the UK, the use of asbestos was banned more than … Read more

Acorn Analytical Services is proud to be helping women to #BreakTheBias.

#BreakTheBias – International Women’s Day 2022

Today, Acorn is incredibly proud to be supporting International Women’s Day. The United Nations began marking the global event back in 1977 and the day is now recognised as the focal point in the movement for women’s rights. This year means a lot to our diverse team at Acorn because the theme for 2022 is … Read more

International Women's Day Emma

International Women’s Day 2022

To mark International Women’s Day, we wanted to introduce you to a couple of Acorn Analytical Service’s fantastic female employees. The asbestos industry – like the construction industry in general – is a male dominated sector but at Acorn we are fortunate to work with several brilliant female employees, including asbestos analysts, asbestos surveyors and … Read more

Do you ever stop to think about whether you could be exposed to asbestos in your home?

Workers exposed to asbestos during refurbishment

Do you ever stop to think about whether you could be exposed to asbestos in your home? During the 20th century asbestos was used heavily by the UK’s construction industry and even though its use has been banned for more than two decades its legacy lives on in our homes, garages, workplaces and public buildings. … Read more

Rare Disease Day is held every year on February 28 to raise awareness and generate change for the 300 million people worldwide living with a rare disease

Rare Disease Day 2022

Did you know that Rare Disease Day is taking place on Monday? Rare Disease Day is held every year on February 28 to raise awareness and generate change for the 300 million people worldwide living with a rare disease and for their families and carers. More than 600 events will be taking place across the … Read more

The Government’s Work and Pensions Committee has been carrying out an inquiry into the HSE's approach to asbestos management

Asbestos management inquiry held by Government

Over the past few months, the Government’s Work and Pensions Committee has been carrying out an inquiry into the approach of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to asbestos management in buildings. There are six million tonnes of asbestos in the UK, most of which can be found in more than 1.5 million buildings across … Read more