Asbestos - general information

A natural fibre

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fibre, that has been used for years within building construction. Its insulating properties, especially for fire, heat and noise, made it the ideal choice for fire protection and energy conservation. It was also used in such things as brake linings for vehicles. It was only in later years that the health threats were fully understood.

Types of asbestos

There are three general types of asbestos:

Crocidolite (blue)
Amosite (brown)
Chrysoltile (white)
The colours are not an indication of how to identify the types by naked eye.

The dangers

Inhalation of asbestos fibres can lead to one of a number of serious medical conditions, such as asbestosis (fibrosis or scarring of lung tissues), diffuse pleural thickening (another disease of the lungs), mesothelioma (a form of tumour seemingly unique to those exposed to asbestos) and lung cancer. There is usually a long delay between exposure and the onset of disease – anything from 15 to 50 years.

Exposure limits

There is no wholly safe level of exposure to asbestos fibres – though generally threshold limits are set by reference to the smallest measurable amounts of fibres. The greater the exposure, the greater the risk of harmful results. Clearance limits for blue and brown asbestos tend to be lower than for white as the two former types are more likely to break into the sort of fibres that can be inhaled right down into the lungs, past all the body’s natural defence mechanisms.

Controlling exposure

The key to preventing asbestos-related diseases lies in preventing exposure to asbestos fibres. As asbestos containing material (ACMs) are usually safe in their used state, this comes down to a combination of controlling any work on ACMs, monitoring them to ensure that they are not damaged and, most importantly of all, knowing where the AMCs are in your premises.

No new uses

New uses of asbestos are banned in the UK.

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