Asbestos in a fire – is it a serious risk to public health?

asbestos fire

If asbestos fibre and dust are released into the air during a fire, it can cause serious health issues for anyone nearby. The presence of asbestos in a fire needs to be carefully managed to minimise the risk to firefighters and the public, as once airborne, the microscopic fibres are easily inhaled.

The sharp and brittle nature of some types of asbestos fibre means they’re likely to become lodged in the outer lining of the lungs, and potentially set up life-threatening diseases such as mesothelioma.

Asbestos fibres can also settle unnoticed in gardens and houses following a fire, creating an ongoing danger of exposure for householders and their families.

Asbestos and fires in older buildings

Older buildings constructed before the UK asbestos ban in 1999 are likely to contain asbestos in some form, so common was it as a fireproofing and insulating material. Flooring, pipework, ceilings, boilers, and ducts, are just some of the areas where the substance was used.

Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) often formed a fundamental part of the fabric of a building, and this creates an issue if the material bonding the asbestos is compromised in a fire.

What are the dangers posed by asbestos in a fire?

If asbestos fibres are inhaled, they can cause asbestos-related cancers and other diseases such as asbestosis. These illnesses are unusual in that they don’t generally manifest for several decades – sometimes 50 or 60 years after the initial exposure.

Malignant mesothelioma is a particularly aggressive form of cancer attributed to the inhalation or ingestion of asbestos and affects the external lining of the lungs and the peritoneum.

As sufferers don’t typically experience significant symptoms until the later stages of the disease, their prognosis is generally poor. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics show over 2,500 deaths occurred from mesothelioma in Great Britain in 2015, with no sign of these figures dropping until the end of the decade.

How can duty-holders manage the danger posed by asbestos in a fire?

If you’re responsible for managing asbestos in non-domestic premises, there are several ways you can meet your obligations as duty-holder. As far as asbestos in a fire is concerned, prevention is clearly a fundamental aspect and carrying out regular fire risk assessments is crucial.

If the worst-case scenario occurs and fire damages the building, you may need to carry out asbestos air testing and sampling to establish the scale of the problem. Asbestos air testing at the site of a fire helps to establish whether there is a threat to public health, and also informs a strategy for the clean-up operation and beyond.

Acorn Analytical Services undertake fire risk assessments, asbestos surveys, testing for asbestos and asbestos removal. If you’d like more information on the risk posed by asbestos in a fire, and how you can manage your risks, please contact one of our highly trained asbestos consultants.

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