Dying in a Material World: the Asbestos Threat in Buildings
Many myths persist about asbestos – that small amounts are harmless, or it is easy to identify, or that you can safely remove it simply if wearing a mask. The fact is, asbestos is deadly and the myths surrounding it are themselves potentially hazardous, especially as they lead people to underestimate the threat of asbestos.
A Miraculous Mineral?
Like many things now recognised as dangerous, asbestos was at one time seen as an enormously beneficial material. It is strong, lightweight and heat-resistant. Its fibres can mix with other materials and be shaped into many different forms. As a naturally occurring mineral, mining for asbestos boomed in the 19th century alongside the industrial revolution, and soon manufacturers began incorporating asbestos into an ever-growing number of products.
“Asbestos has been common in building materials such as boarding, cement products, textured coating and tiles,” Gemma Voaden of Manchester-based asbestos detection and removal specialists All Survey points out.
Many buildings will still have asbestos-based materials, such as pipe insulation, ceiling boards, toilet cisterns and floor tiles.
“The danger is that people see asbestos as something from the past,” Gemma States, “when in fact it is very much present in the here and now.”
Too Easy to Ignore
How well is the presence of asbestos being managed on a national level? If a construction company or local firm of builders goes into a building to begin refurbishments, how prepared are they for the threat of asbestos?
“Asbestos can be pretty much embedded in places we work and live,” Gemma explains, “which makes it really dangerous when it comes to someone carrying out otherwise routine work and suddenly disturbing it.”
Disturbing asbestos releases its fibres into the air. If these are breathed in, then they can cause fatal lung diseases such as mesothelioma, or lung cancer; and is the cause of asbestosis. In fact around 5,000 people a year in the UK die from asbestos-related diseases.
“A survey by the British Lung Foundation found that 45% of homeowners did not realise that asbestos was used as a building material,” Gemma says. “ Raising awareness for everyone about its dangers, and the sheer range of materials it can be found in, is vital, on a national level.”
All Survey is currently campaigning for a national asbestos register, in order to help protect people from the continuing threat of asbestos in buildings and materials throughout the UK.