Weird locations and uses of asbestos

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In this blog we’re looking at the weird and wonderful locations and uses of asbestos that we’ve come across.

Asbestos was used everywhere and thousands of different materials had asbestos added to them.

Kent cigarettes

One example that springs to mind is the old American Kent cigarette brand which contained asbestos in their filter. The manufacturers said it offered the greatest health protection in history and between 1952 and 1956, 13 billion of the cigarettes were sold. They put blue asbestos into the actual filter and so, not only were you getting nicotine and tar from the cigarettes, you also had a big dose of blue asbestos as well.

Asbestos in products around the home

Did you know you used to be able to buy dishcloths containing asbestos? Asbestos cloth was spun in a similar way to cotton and the cloths could be made with as much as 100% asbestos. They were highly regarded for their flame-resistant properties.

You could also find asbestos in mastic pads underneath the kitchen sink. If you’re not sure what we mean look under your metal sink and you’ll see a black pad below it and under the drainer. It is there to reduce the noise when you throw something into the sink and also to stop the metal bending and popping when the sink is filled with hot water. Not all mastic pads were made from asbestos but it was very common.

Raw plugs used to be made from asbestos before the invention of plastic raw plugs. They used to come in a tin and you grabbed a handful, spat on it, rammed it into the hole and did the fixing.

Another place asbestos was used was in filing cabinets and safes. We’ve seen asbestos insulating boards within filing cabinets and woven asbestos acting as seals around safes.

Anyone who has a very old ironing board may find it has an asbestos cement panel and a heat protective mat for the iron to stand on. The mats were made from asbestos insulating board which was made of up to 40% asbestos and if they are damaged they can release asbestos fibres.

We have also seen quite a lot of asbestos cement pots, plant pots, in particular. Factory made plant pots cast out of asbestos, such as window boxes and big plant pots on commercial sites. You often come across asbestos sheets separating boundaries in gardens or allotments. I don’t know where all the allotment holders get them from, but we’ve seen that a lot.

Asbestos in buildings

The versatility of asbestos is incredible and this is what makes life so difficult for duty holders responsible for monitoring and maintaining asbestos in their buildings. It has been used everywhere and you really need to expect the unexpected!

I wonder how many people know that you regularly find asbestos insulating boards packed around windows and floor joists.

You’re probably familiar with the square or rectangular local authority buildings with flat felt roofs. A lot of the designs for these buildings were by the same architect and the same builders went around the country erecting these structures. They are packed full of asbestos, in particular the glass ones.

Cement gutters were also quite common which can be a concern because when people wash out the gutters they can end up with handfuls of moss mixed with asbestos.

It’s also common to find asbestos insulation particularly in boiler rooms, on boiler room walls or anywhere where pipes have run but most people would be surprised to learn that we often find it in medieval stately homes that were built well before the era of asbestos construction.

We did a project at a manor house near the Northamptonshire-Oxfordshire border where the owners wanted to build a swimming pool. The house was massive and the plot of land they decided to dig up for the pool contained a disused underground boiler room. We had to do a full survey and then remove it. Some of it weighed a tonne and it was interesting to remove.

We regularly come across textured coating containing asbestos on ceilings or even walls and in the odd case inside cupboards. I’m not sure why you would do this but I suppose you could apply it to wherever you want.

Then, there’s asbestos marble. This is rare as not a lot of people have the old kind of style marble. Most of the time we see it on the facades of buildings such as banks and department stores. You can find asbestos within the veins of the marble which surprises a lot of people.

Another weird one is asbestos in the soil in new built properties. A new housing estate is constructed and then soil is brought in from elsewhere for the garden, and it is contaminated. This can be very expensive to clean up.

People are familiar with the idea of asbestos in buildings but they often forget about it being in contaminated land. In the past sometimes farmers would have old machinery or barns containing asbestos and when they were no longer used or taken down they would be buried in the ground.

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Ian Stone

I am based out of our Northampton office but regularly travel to meet with new and existing clients. I have assisted thousands of clients over the years on varying-sized projects, several have been schemes totalling over one million pounds spent purely on asbestos. Together with Neil Munro, I host our weekly podcast – Asbestos Knowledge Empire and I am Co-author of Asbestos The Dark Arts and Fear and Loathing of Health and Safety.

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