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Asbestos Surveys / Removal

Asbestos (tremolite) silky fibres on muscovite from Bernera, Outer Hebrides.

Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals, which all have in common their asbestiform habit: i.e., long (roughly 1:20 aspect ratio), thin fibrous crystals, with each visible fiber composed of millions of microscopic "fibrils" that can be released by abrasion and other processes. They are commonly known by their colors, as blue asbestos, brown asbestos, white asbestos, and green asbestos.

Asbestos was being mined more than 4,000 years ago, but large-scale mining began at the end of the 19th century, when manufacturers and builders began using asbestos for its desirable physical properties. Some of those properties are sound absorption, average tensile strength, affordability, and resistance to fire, heat, and electricity. It was used in such applications as electrical insulation for hotplate wiring and in building insulation. When asbestos is used for its resistance to fire or heat, the fibers are often mixed with cement or woven into fabric or mats. These desirable properties led to asbestos being used very widely. Asbestos use continued to grow through most of the 20th century, until public recognition of the health hazards of asbestos dust led to its outlawing by courts and legislatures in mainstream construction and fireproofing in most countries.

Inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious and fatal illnesses including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis (a type of pneumoconiosis). Concern of asbestos-related illness in modern times began with the 20th century and escalated during the 1920s and 1930s. By the 1980s and 1990s, asbestos trade and use were heavily restricted, phased out, or banned outright in an increasing number of countries.

Substitutes for asbestos in construction

Fiberglass insulation was invented in 1938 and is now the most commonly used type of insulation material. The safety of this material has also been called into question due to similarities in material structure. However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer removed fiberglass from its list of possible human carcinogens in 2001.

In 1978, a highly texturized fiberglass fabric was invented by Bal Dixit, called Zetex. This fabric is lighter than asbestos, but offers the same bulk, thickness, hand, feel, and abrasion resistance as asbestos. The fiberglass was texturized to eliminate some of the problems that arise with fiberglass, such as poor abrasion resistance and poor seam strength.

In Europe, mineral wool and glass wool are the main insulators in houses.

Many companies that produced asbestos-cement products that were reinforced with asbestos fibers have developed products incorporating organic fibers.

Survey & Removal

Asbestos fibres are believed to have been used in over 4,000 different products and has been identified in over 15,000 patents.  Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs) were used extensively within buildings in Great Britain between the 1950s through to the mid 1980s, with a total ban by the year 2000.

Although some of these materials have been removed over the years, it is estimated that over half a million non-domestic premises and over 65% of domestic properties currently have some form of asbestos in them.

Contrary to popular belief, Asbestos Containing Materials (ACM's) do not always need to be removed. ACM's that are in good condition and are not likely to be damaged or disturbed are sometimes best left in place and managed. Their condition is easily established by carrying out a risk assessment that can be included within an Asbestos Register.

Current regulations require commercial buildings built before the year 2000 to have an asbestos register and management plan for all presumed and confirmed ACM's, with both commercial and domestic buildings being required to have a refurbishment/pre-demolition survey prior to work being carried out.

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23 November 2020
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