There are many myths that are out there about asbestos. Small amounts are harmless. It's easy to identify. It's safe to remove if you where a mask.
The fact is, asbestos is deadly, and the myths surrounding it are hazardous. It can lead people to underestimate the threat of asbestos.
Like many things that are now recognised as dangerous, asbestos was at one time seen as a beneficial material. It is strong, lightweight and heat-resistant. Its fibres can mix with other materials and shaped into many different forms.
The mineral occurs naturally, mining for asbestos boomed in the 19th century alongside the industrial revolution. Soon manufacturers began incorporating asbestos into an ever-growing number of products.
“Asbestos was used 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 contain asbestos-based materials. This could include 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.”
How well is the presence of asbestos managed on a national level? A construction company or local builders go into a building to begin refurbishments, are they prepared for the threat of asbestos?
“Asbestos can be embedded in places we work and live,” Gemma explains. “Which makes it dangerous when it comes to someone carrying out otherwise routine work. They could unknowingly disturb it.”
Disturbing asbestos releases its fibres into the air. If these are breathed in, they can cause fatal lung diseases such as mesothelioma, or lung cancer. It 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, to help protect people from the continuing threat of asbestos in buildings and materials throughout the UK.