How to identify asbestos and go about removing it
Asbestos consists of a group of six fibrous metamorphic minerals derived from hydrous magnesium silicate. Varieties of it include Chrysolite – or white asbestos, Amosite from South Africa and Crocidolite – or blue asbestos, considered to be the most dangerous.
If asbestos fibres are inhaled it can lead to serious illnesses, including asbestosis, malignant lung cancer and mesothelioma. The average person is reported to have tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of fibres in each gram of dry lung tissue. We really don’t need any more of it.
It became popular in the latter half of the 19th century because of its resistance to heat, the sound absorption qualities and its resistance to chemical damage. It was used extensively on electric wiring in ovens and in buildings for its insulating and flame-retardant properties. Almost all buildings erected before 1985 can be expected to contain asbestos. It was only effectively prohibited since 1999.
Asbestos can in many cases be identified quickly, but because it is mostly mixed with such a variety of materials, the safest option is to call in a competent Asbestos Surveyor or Licensed Asbestos Assessor to inspect it or take samples and have it analysed. Don’t try to remove a sample for analysis, because this is simply too dangerous and you will not be popular when you, not being a trained professional, bring a sample into a building or lab where they are analysed. If an asbestos product breaks, it can quite easily be recognised by its fibrous appearance, but in general it is embedded into various materials.
Some of the most popular uses for asbestos included drywalls, brake pads, clutch plates, heaters, gaskets, vinyl floor tiles, fireproofing, thermal pipe insulation and acoustic ceilings. It was also commonly mixed with cement, so extra care should be taken when you want to renovate a house. Cement roofs on some old buildings were built with sheets of corrugated asbestos cement. Asbestos was also extensively used in downpipes and gutters. If a product was manufactured after 1999, it will not contain asbestos, so you don’t have to bother testing such a product.
In roofiing it was used for asphalt tiles, roofing adhesives, roofing felt and base flashing. The fibres are embedded within roofing tiles and should not become airborne if left alone. On ceilings or walls the acoustic plaster that has a characteristic popcorn-like appearance is likely to contain asbestos. In locations that are subject to high temperatures you would most likely find sealant containing it, such as putty, caulk, Asbestos Tape, Pipe Adhesives and other patching materials.
Dealing with asbestos
To remove it you have to make use of approved professional contractors. Make sure the contractor is fully qualified to do the job by finding out how many years he’s been in business. Illegal operators won’t survive for long in this business, because of the complexity of asbestos law and the abatement procedures that they must adhere to. Asbestos is classified as n category 1 carcinogen and an average of 38 contractors die every week in the UK as a result of this material.
Ask for proof that the contractor has completed the necessary courses and has a 714 or SE60 certificate. Make sure they are licensed to deal with asbestos by the Health and Safety Executive board (HSE). Get the license number and the expiry date, because licenses are valid for up to three years only. If anything is to be removed they should be registered with the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association (ARCA). United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) accreditation is also important.
Obtain references from previous clients to determine if they were satisfied with the work done by the contractor. Also ask for a detailed description of the work to be done and keep it for future reference in case of problems and misunderstandings. Different contractors have different approaches, so ask more than one for an opinion. One may be adamant that, for instance, a ceiling must be removed. It is less dangerous and cumbersome to just seal it than to remove it all, unless it has become too brittle. If it’s a ceiling, especially in a garage, or anything else that probably would never be disturbed, then it should rather be sealed and left alone.
Asbestos can be recycled using high heat to transform it into a silicate glass, which is harmless. At temperatures between 1000 -1250 °C it forms a mixture of silicate phases and at temperatures above 1250 °C silicate glass is formed. Other processes are used to transform it into porcelain stoneware tiles, single-fired porous wall tiles and ceramic bricks. When you want to remove something small made from asbestos to another location where it is isolated, you can wet it thoroughly and use disposable gloves to move it and seal it in an airtight plastic bag – together with the gloves.
If you are worried about asbestos then you should get free quotes for an asbestos survey.