Asbestos fibres are strong and resistant to heat and chemicals. This has led to their use in a wide range of building materials and products, often as fireproofing.
Properties built since the mid-1980 are very unlikely to contain asbestos in the fabric of the building. Properties built after 1990 are extremely unlikely to contain asbestos anywhere in the building.
Why asbestos may be a problem
When asbestos materials age or become damaged they can release fibres into the air.
These can be breathed into the lungs where they may stay for a long time, causing possible damage. When very high levels of these fibres are breathed in there is a risk of lung diseases, including cancer.
People who have worked with asbestos for many years as part of their job or have washed the dusty clothing of those who worked with asbestos are most likely to be affected.
Workplace regulations now protect such people.
Where asbestos can be found
Building materials containing asbestos were widely used from 1930 to around 1980, particularly from the 1960s onwards. Houses and flats built or refurbished at this time may contain asbestos materials.
Loft or cavity wall insulation does not contain asbestos.
Heat-resistant household products
Asbestos has also been used in some heat-resistant household products, such as oven gloves and ironing boards.
The use of asbestos in these products decreased greatly around the mid-1980s and since 1993 the use of asbestos in most products has been banned, with a complete ban on the import and use of all asbestos introduced in the UK in 1999.
It is not always easy to tell whether a product contains asbestos as modern asbestos free materials often look similar - remember it is usually older products that contain asbestos.
Types of asbestos materials
The types of asbestos materials that may be found in homes are listed below:
- insulating board (AIB) (asbestos content 20-45%)
- lagging (asbestos content 55-100%)
- sprayed coating (asbestos content up to 85%)
- asbestos-cement products - (asbestos content mainly 10-15%, but sometimes up to 40%)
- plastic floor tiles
- cushion flooring
- roofing felts
- felts and blankets
- other building materials and products
Asbestos has also been widely used in a variety of other materials, for example, in decorative coatings such as textured paints and plasters such as Artex. These are still widely in place but supply and application has been prohibited since 1988.
Asbestos was used in some heating systems such as:
- warm air heating systems
- electric storage heaters (up to 1976)
- flameless catalytic heaters (up to 1988)
- early ‘coal effect’ gas fires
Asbestos has also been used in domestic equipment such as:
- oven gloves
- ironing boards
- seals on cooker doors
- fire blankets
Do not keep using oven gloves or other small items which contain asbestos - contact your Neighbourhood Housing Office for advice on disposal.
How to identify products or materials containing asbestos
The greatest risk from exposure to asbestos nowadays will be from disturbing the fabric of the building, for example cutting, drilling or sanding materials which may contain asbestos.
Remember, asbestos containing products can look very similar to those not containing asbestos. If in doubt seek advice.
Asbestos materials in good condition that cannot readily be damaged are best left where they are because removal can lead to higher levels of fibres in the air for some time.
Home improvements or maintenance
Asbestos materials that are badly damaged or deteriorating can release fibres.
If you are planning home improvements or maintenance and have asbestos in your home, always inform builders or contractors before they start work. Most asbestos materials (sprayed asbestos, lagging, insulating boards and textured coatings) must always be removed by contractors with a special licence issued by the government. These licensed asbestos contractors have to follow regulations to ensure asbestos is safely removed.
Sometimes it is dangerous to have asbestos materials removed, for example fire protection materials, without replacing them with a suitable alternative.
Remember, avoid disturbing or damaging asbestos materials in good condition and do not attempt work involving asbestos materials.
If you have damaged or deteriorating asbestos materials in your home then seek advice.