Unmasking Asbestos in the UK: A Hidden Danger Lurking in Our Midst

asbestos in the UK

Asbestos in the UK, a notorious carcinogenic mineral, boasts of fibres that are impressively resistant to heat, electricity, and corrosion. These unique characteristics have catapulted its use in a myriad of products, inadvertently escalating the risk of asbestos exposure. In the UK, the widespread use of asbestos in construction materials, due to its superior insulation properties, is a well-documented fact. It was also woven into cloth, paper, cement, plastic, and other materials to fortify their strength.

The Big Three: Most Common Types of Asbestos in the UK

Asbestos in the UK is not a singular entity but a group of six minerals, three of which were commercially exploited in the UK. These are often referred to as the “big three”:

  1. Chrysotile: Known as white asbestos, Chrysotile was the most extensively used asbestos in the UK, found in approximately 92% of all asbestos-containing products.
  2. Amosite: The second most common type of asbestos in the UK, also known as brown asbestos.
  3. Crocidolite: Often found in cement sheets or insulating boards, Crocidolite is also known as blue asbestos.

The remaining three types – Anthophyllite, Tremolite, and Actinolite – were less commercially sought after but were still collected by miners if encountered, which is why traces of them can still be found in products today.

Asbestos in the UK: A Silent Killer

Despite the ban on asbestos in the UK in 1999, the legacy of its widespread use continues to pose a risk. Asbestos in the UK is still present in some older buildings. For instance, garage roofs were often made using 15% Chrysotile and Portland cement. Large institutional buildings, such as schools, hospitals, and prisons, also commonly used asbestos.

Exposure to asbestos has been linked to mesothelioma, a type of cancer that develops on a thin layer of tissue that covers internal organs known as the mesothelium. Over 80% of mesothelioma cases are caused by exposure to asbestos, with the risk increasing with the level of exposure. The UK, being the largest user of brown asbestos globally, has the highest number of mesothelioma deaths.

Contrary to a common misconception, all types of asbestos in the UK, including white asbestos, are harmful. Within the industry, they are all treated with the same level of caution and control.

Any work with asbestos in the UK, must be carried out by a licensed contractor. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides guidance on how to handle and dispose of asbestos safely. If you suspect that a material contains asbestos, do not attempt to handle it yourself. Contact a professional asbestos consultant who can safely take a sample and have it analysed.

In the UK, if you have developed an asbestos-related disease, you may be entitled to claim compensation. This can be a complex process and it is recommended to seek legal advice from a solicitor experienced in asbestos claims.

Asbestos Disposal in the UK

Asbestos waste must be disposed of at a licensed disposal site in the UK. It is illegal to dispose of asbestos waste in a standard bin or skip. If you have asbestos waste, contact your local council for advice on how to dispose of it safely. It’s crucial to remember that asbestos should never be handled without the appropriate safety measures in place.

Asbestos Awareness and Safety

Awareness of the potential presence of asbestos is particularly important when buying or renovating older properties. If you suspect that a material contains asbestos, do not attempt to handle it yourself. Instead, contact a professional asbestos surveyor who can safely take a sample and have it analysed.

The Legacy of Asbestos In The UK Use

The UK was historically the biggest user of brown asbestos in the world, and it was imported especially for use in various industries. Studies have since shown that the UK also has the highest number of mesothelioma deaths, a direct consequence of asbestos exposure. The legacy of asbestos use continues to affect those who were exposed to it in the past, and it remains a significant public health issue.

Seeking Professional Help With Asbestos In The UK

If you need further information or advice on asbestos and how it can be safely removed, it’s recommended to contact professionals who specialise in asbestos management. They can provide guidance on how to handle potential asbestos exposure and can assist with the safe removal and disposal of asbestos-containing materials.

Alternatives to Asbestos In The UK

Since the ban on asbestos, UK manufacturers have turned to safer substitutes. These include polyurethane foam for insulation, amorphous silica fabric as a high-quality cloth, cellulose fibre containing cotton, wood pulp, linen or shredded paper, and thermoset plastic flour, a mixture of wood fibres and binders.

Exposure to asbestos can lead to several serious health conditions, including:

  • Mesothelioma: A rare form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen.
  • Asbestosis: A chronic lung disease caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibres.
  • Lung cancer: While typically associated with smoking, asbestos exposure can also cause lung cancer.
  • Other diseases: Asbestos exposure has also been linked to other conditions such as diffuse pleural thickening, pleural effusions, pleural plaques, and pleuritis.

Asbestos Legislation in the UK

In the UK, the use, import, and supply of asbestos were banned in 1999 under the Control of Asbestos Regulations. These regulations were updated in 2012 to include the duty to manage asbestos in non-domestic properties. Breach of these regulations is a criminal offence, punishable by unlimited fines and imprisonment.

Asbestos in the UK Workplace

In the UK, certain occupations, particularly in the construction and shipbuilding industries, were historically at high risk of asbestos exposure. Although regulations have significantly reduced the risk of exposure in the workplace, a degree of risk remains for certain occupations, especially those involving the renovation or demolition of older buildings that may contain asbestos.

Asbestos in the UK Home

Asbestos was commonly used in homes throughout the UK for insulation, fireproofing, and as a component in various products like cement and plastic. As a result, many homes built before the 2000s may still contain asbestos, posing a risk to homeowners during renovations or DIY projects.

Asbestos Cover-Up

The dangers of asbestos have been known for many years, but the information was often suppressed to protect industry profits. In the UK, regulations have been put in place to protect workers and the public from the dangers of asbestos.

In conclusion, while the use of asbestos has been banned in the UK for over two decades, the legacy of its widespread use continues to pose a risk. It’s important to be aware of the potential presence of asbestos, especially when renovating older properties, and to take appropriate precautions to protect your health.

For further information or advice on asbestos and how it can be removed safely, you can contact the team on 0844 818 0895 or contact us here.

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.

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