Asbestos Exposure: Beyond the Obvious – Keep Your Family Safe

Asbestos is a mineral frequently used in construction and other industries until the 1980s, when the government banned it in the UK due to health risks. Asbestos can cause serious diseases such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis if its fibres are inhaled or ingested. Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are still present in many UK buildings and products made before the ban, and it is crucial to be aware of the potential sources of exposure. 

Common Locations Containing Asbestos

Sprayed coatings that were used on ceilings, walls, beams and columns. These coatings were used for fire protection, insulation, and soundproofing and often contain a high percentage of asbestos. They can release fibres if they are damaged or disturbed.

Asbestos cement products were used for a wide range of purposes, such as roof panels, wall cladding, gutters, pipes, and flues. These products are often grey in colour, hard and compressed, and may contain up to 15% asbestos. They can release fibres if they are broken, drilled, or cut. Darren Taylor of Thanet Drainage in Kent estimates more than half the county’s drainage systems contain asbestos in gutters and pipes.

Loose-fill insulation found in cavity walls, under flooring, and in roof spaces was made of loose, fluffy asbestos fibres that can easily become airborne if disturbed. It is often blue-grey or white in colour and was commonly used as a cheap alternative to other materials.

Lagging found on boilers and pipes may have ACMs. This fibrous material was used to insulate hot water and heating systems and may contain up to 85% asbestos. It can flake and powder easily and, in many cases, may have been painted over. Modern lagging does not contain asbestos.

Asbestos insulating board (AIB) was used in partition walls, panels in fire doors, lift shafts, ceiling tiles, soffits, and panels below windows. This common building material may contain up to 40% asbestos and is often difficult to differentiate from non-asbestos materials. It can release fibres if it is cut, drilled, or damaged.

Textiles and composites with ACMs were used in various products, such as fuse boxes, old fire blankets, heat-resistant gloves, window sills, and bath panels. These products are not distinctive and are often similar to modern equivalents. They may contain up to 100% asbestos, depending on the product.

Floor tiles containing asbestos are in many buildings, often hidden under carpets. These tiles resemble modern vinyl floor tiles and can release fibres if damaged or removed.

Textured coatings used on ceilings and walls, such as the famous Artex brand, originally contained asbestos. These coatings were popular in the 1970s and 1980s and may have up to 5% asbestos. They can release fibres if they are scraped, sanded, or drilled.

Unusual Locations Containing Asbestos

Some of the more unusual places where asbestos-containing materials may lurk are:

Toilet seats:  Some early plastic toilet seats were made from a material called bakelite, which sometimes contained asbestos. These toilet seats can release asbestos fibres if they are cracked or damaged.

Chimneys: Asbestos was sometimes used in chimneys and furnaces because of its heat-resistant properties. Asbestos can be present in chimney caps, flue linings, and insulation materials. These can release fibres if they are deteriorated or disturbed.

Bowling balls: In the 1960s and 1970s, many bowling balls contained asbestos. Asbestos made the balls heavier and more durable. These balls can release fibres if they are chipped or broken.

Beauty products: It’s alarming to know that asbestos, a harmful mineral, has been found in some frequently used beauty products like makeup, talcum powder, and hair dryers. This can happen due to the presence of asbestos in the raw materials used during the manufacturing process. Asbestos fibres can be released when these products are applied to the skin or inhaled, leading to serious health issues.

These are just some of the usual and unusual places where asbestos may be found, but other sources may not be listed here. If you suspect that your property or product may contain asbestos you should always consult a qualified asbestos specialist who can identify any asbestos-containing materials and recommend actions to help manage the risks. You should never attempt to handle or remove asbestos, as it can pose a serious health hazard that remains dormant for many years. When symptoms arise, diseases caused by asbestos may be beyond treatment.