What materials could contain asbestos?
Asbestos is only dangerous if the fibres are inhaled when they’re airborne. It can stay intact, in good condition for many years without posing a problem. That said, it’s good to be aware of where this potentially lethal material could be lurking so that you don’t unknowingly disturb it doing any maintenance, alterations or repairs.
Loose fill asbestos insulation
This is possibly the most dangerous of all asbestos you’re likely to encounter. It looks like blue-grey or white candyfloss and could be found in the loft, cavity wall spaces or underneath floors. It normally has a high concentration of asbestos fibres and because it is loose, the fibres can easily become airborne. If you find this type of asbestos call an asbestos expert to carry out a risk assessment and test it for asbestos fibres. Do not under any circumstance attempt to deal with or remove this yourself.
This is found around pipes and boilers and was often painted so this can make it difficult to identify. It was widely used in the 1960s and early 1970s, especially in public buildings and system built flats. It was banned from use completely in 1986.
Because it is fibrous and flaky, it can release fibres easily if disturbed so again, should only be dealt with by a licensed HSE asbestos contractor.
Sprayed asbestos coatings
Asbestos was also used as fireproofing, particularly in system-built flats in the 1960s. This type is white/greyish and has a textured appearance. As with the pipe lagging, it may well have been painted, so can be hard to identify, but because it was sprayed on, there was often splashback, so keep an eye out for ‘debris’ around the area.
Most sprayed asbestos has been removed, but if you suspect there is still some in your building, it’s best to contact a licensed contractor, because even minor disturbance can release large amounts of fibres.
Asbestos insulating boards (AIBs)
These can be tricky to identify because they look so similar to other commonly used building materials. They could be in partition walls, ceiling tiles, soffits, fire doors and lift shaft linings. As long as AIBs remain in good condition, they don’t pose a risk, but as with any asbestos containing material, if they’re likely to be disturbed you should take appropriate precautions. Small amounts of work can be carried out by a non-licensed contractor but larger jobs or removals, you should seek out a licensed contractor.
These textured coatings were used to create decorative, textured coatings on ceilings and walls, such as those lovely Artex ceilings. Again, as long as they’re in good condition, there’s no need to take action, but if you need to remove it, it’s best to contact a licensed contractor.
The regulations clearly state they take effect if you are working near or on asbestos i.e. there is a possibility of disturbance. In a risk assessment our findings would be that the plasterer would likely disturb as he will want to sand the ceiling first to make it as flat as possible. Of course this would release a large amount of fibres into the air! You should look into painting it or having it removed by a competent company.
Asbestos was often mixed into cement to increase durability and make it stronger. It’s found in corrugated roofs and cladding, downpipes, gutters and flues. It’s hard to tell whether it contains asbestos or not, so again, if it’s in good condition and won’t be disturbed, best to leave it alone, but any works that would result in it breaking up and releasing fibres, get a licensed contractor on the case.
Other unexpected places you might find asbestos
Asbestos was a widely used material, and pops up in many places, including fire blankets, toilet cisterns, electric storage heaters, behind fuse-boxes, rope seals on old cookers, old oven gloves and even hair dryers from the 1970s. In fact, asbestos has been found in over 3500 different materials. If you’ve got something you are worried might contain asbestos, you can often search for its brand name online to check whether it contains asbestos.
What do you do if you suspect you’ve found asbestos?
This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you’re unsure whether something contains asbestos and you need to disturb, remove or demolish it, it’s always best to assume there is, or get proof that there isn’t.
And remember, you don’t necessarily need to remove it. If it’s in good condition then it can just be left undisturbed. Damaged or deteriorating asbestos can sometimes be left in place, but sealed and labelled to prevent releasing any fibres in the future. Or of course it can just be removed altogether.
We’re always happy to offer free, no-obligation advice so please do feel free to call. We pride ourselves on offering, honest, genuine advice and are always happy to answer questions if you have them.