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

Asbestos can lead to mesothelioma

Death of former MP raises fears over use of asbestos

THE death of a former MP from mesothelioma has brought the problem of asbestos into the headlines once again this week. In December, Alice Mahon, who was the MP for Halifax for 18 years died from mesothelioma, the cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibres. According to her family, the former MP, who campaigned on … Read more

You need to think carefully about asbestos

Asbestos: Think carefully before signing on the dotted line

A BUILDER who lied to his customers about his asbestos industry credentials has been forced to pay back the thousands of pounds. According to the Environment Agency, Lee Charles used false paperwork to convince customers he was legitimate and had the qualifications necessary to remove asbestos and store it safely. In reality, Charles had no … Read more

Asbestos surveyor

Unveiling the Hidden Dangers: How Hiring a Professional Asbestos Surveyor Could Save Your Business and Property

Could your business be at risk from an invisible threat, hidden within the very structure of your buildings? Understanding the importance of a professional asbestos surveyor could be key to preserving your business operations and the integrity of your properties. Uncovering the hidden dangers of asbestos can protect your employees’ health, save significant costs in … Read more

inexperienced asbestos consultants (Medium)

The Rise of Inexperienced Asbestos Consultants: A Growing Concern

The asbestos industry is facing an alarming issue with the rise of inexperienced asbestos consultants. These individuals, lacking proper accreditation and expertise, are entering the market with only basic P402 qualifications. In this article, we aim to highlight the potential risks and consequences associated with this concerning trend. Understanding P402 Qualification The BOHS P402 qualification, … Read more

The Houses of Parliament are 'riddled' with asbestos

Asbestos: Living with the legacy of the past

THERE is so much asbestos in the Houses of Parliament it would take 300 people two-and-a-half years to remove it completely. That’s the view of members of the Public Accounts Committee who fear that the Parliament buildings are at risk of crumbling unless swift action is taken. In older buildings, asbestos is a common problem … Read more

Mesothelioma - celebrating the work of nurses

Mesothelioma: Celebrating the work of Mesothelioma UK’s nurses

IF you’re a regular reader of our blog, you’ll know that mesothelioma – the cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibres – is a cause close to all our hearts. Over the years, we’ve worked closely with Mesothelioma UK, the only charity in the UK dedicated to supporting people living with mesothelioma and their families, … Read more

Let your career in the asbestos industry grow with Acorn

Let your career in the asbestos industry grow with Acorn

GIVING young people the opportunities they need to build successful careers in asbestos and health and safety is a big part of the work we do here at Acorn Analytical Services. Having all started off as apprentices and learnt our trade over many years, we pride ourselves on providing the right environment where the next … Read more

Here for you on Safety and Health at Work Day and every day

Here for you on Safety and Health at Work Day – and every day

ASBESTOS is one of the biggest health and safety hazards in the UK contributing to 2,700 deaths from mesothelioma every year. To mark Safety and Health at Work Day we wanted to highlight the range of services Acorn Analytical Services provides to help protect yourself and those around you from his hidden killer. We’ll also … Read more

Asbestos is dominating the headlines once again

Asbestos – silent killer dominating national headlines once again

ASBESTOS has once again dominated the headlines this weekend with The Sunday Times focussing on the stories of real people who have been affected by this hidden killer. Research shows there could be as much as six million tonnes of asbestos contained within 1.5 million buildings in the UK – including 90% of hospitals and … Read more

Construction workers are at a much greater risk of being exposed to the dangers of asbestos

‘Asbestos awareness is crucial for everyone involved in the construction industry’

IF you work in the construction industry chances are you will come into contact with asbestos – perhaps without even realising it. With hundreds of thousands of buildings in the UK still believed to contain this highly dangerous material, even something as simple as drilling a hole could leave you vulnerable to exposure, and at … Read more