What is asbestos?

It is a naturally mined mineral used because it has properties of heat and chemical resistance, great strength and is almost indestructible. There are several different types commonly known as white (chrysotile), blue (crocidolite) and brown (amosite) but being aware of the type makes little practical difference.

Where has it been used?

Buildings constructed from the 1950's to the late 1970's are likely to contain asbestos although it may not be obvious. Although asbestos is no longer used in building materials, it was only phased out relatively recently and some materials were manufactured using asbestos as late as 1999.

It can be found in corrugated cement roofs, panels in walls and ceilings, in fire doors, roofing felts, floor tiles and textured decorative coatings. Another very common location is in boiler rooms, either as lagging or in the structure of the room.

Is all asbestos dangerous?

The fibres themselves are always potentially harmful to health, and can cause serious, sometimes fatal, diseases. However, not all materials that contain asbestos will release fibres - it depends on their condition and location.

Does all asbestos need to be removed?

No, in fact this can often create more problems. If the material is in an undamaged condition, or is enclosed / encapsulated in some way it is usually safer to leave it alone. Those in charge of business premises are required to note where it is (or mark it with a label) so that precautions can be taken if work needs to be done that might disturb it.

Some types of asbestos have to be removed by licensed contractors, and some - such as corrugated cement roofs - do not, although work must be carried out in a safe manner.

What are the legal requirements?

Householders do not have any legal duty other than to dispose of any asbestos safely. However if you own, occupy, manage or have responsibilities for work premises The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 apply. Businesses and organisations now have to take steps to identify the asbestos in their premises. This would usually be done by means of a survey, but it does not always have to involve samples being taken. The business is then required to manage any asbestos so that it does not become a problem, and may need to arrange removal of any that is causing a hazard.

Can asbestos be disposed of at a local recycling centre?

If it is waste from a domestic property, yes. The householder can take small amounts to the local household waste sites, the waste must be double-bagged. Asbestos waste from any business or trade must be disposed of at a licensed asbestos site - there are very few of these in the UK so the best course of action is to contact a licensed asbestos removal / disposal contractor - see Yellow Pages