Sunday, October 12, 2014

Asbestos - Part 2 - Where to find asbestos in buildings

Asbestos in buildings is not easy to identify even for those with experience of buildings and construction.  This is not only due to the vast use of asbestos in buildings but also due to the fact that it is often concealed or decorated, making it difficult to differentiate from other components/products
In last week’s article (Link) I discussed the many positive characteristics of asbestos, which led to the extensive use of asbestos in UK buildings for a wide variety of components/products.  I also explained that due to the serious health risks associated with either working with or being exposed to asbestos fibres, that asbestos is no longer used in building construction in the UK.  Having said that asbestos was so widely used in UK buildings particularly between circa 1950 to 1980 that it’s discovery in buildings is still highly likely today and something that will continue to be an issue well into the future.  It is therefore worthwhile trying to understand how to identify asbestos and where it may be discovered in buildings.

The first thing to make clear is that asbestos in buildings is not easy to identify, even for those with experience of buildings and construction generally.  This is not only due to the vast use of asbestos in buildings but also due to the fact that it is often concealed or decorated, making it difficult to differentiate from other components/products.  The only real way of knowing whether something that may be suspected as asbestos is actually asbestos is to have the component/product tested.  There are very strict procedures for sampling and testing of asbestos as set out in the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, which will require the services of a specialist.  As you would imagine this can sometimes prove to be costly, however if you do not follow the legislation you are obviously breaking the law and secondly, possibly compromising the health of yourself and others. 

Without wishing to go into too much technical detail for this article there are six different types of asbestos that may be found in UK buildings; Amosite, Chrysotile, Crocidolite, Tremolite, Actinolite and Anthophyllite, for which the first three were the most commonly used in UK construction. The health risks associated with all types of asbestos are very similar however Crocidolite, sometimes referred to as blue asbestos is considered to be the most dangerous of all.  As stated previously, in order to establish whether asbestos is present and if so which type it is it will be necessary for sampling and testing to take place in accordance with the procedures detailed in the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.

So where is asbestos likely to be found in buildings? Interesting the answer is pretty much anywhere!  Remember asbestos is not easy to identify so an awareness of where it was used will help those to identify ‘suspected’ asbestos and recommend subsequently sampling and testing to confirm the presence of asbestos, or not.  Asbestos cement products are discussed below and in next week’s article I will provide some further typical examples of where asbestos may be found in buildings. Also, if you want to undertake further research into the uses of asbestos in UK buildings then you will find that the examples provided in my articles are far from exhaustive.

Asbestos Cement - Asbestos cement is ordinary cement mixed with asbestos, in some cases the asbestos can make up over a third of the overall content however, typically however the overall asbestos content is often much lower.  Asbestos cement is generally considered as one of the lower risk asbestos products as the asbestos fibres are effectively held or ‘trapped’ within a ‘rigid’ component, once the cement, water and asbestos has cured (hardened).  Asbestos cement products start to become a problem if they become damaged or disturbed, so it is worth knowing where these could be found.

The photographs below demonstrate that asbestos cement sheeting was a very popular way of providing roof coverings for outhouses and garages in domestic buildings as well as roof and wall cladding for industrial or low specification commercial buildings. Asbestos cement roof and wall cladding sheets are usually identified by their distinctive ‘corrugated’ form and their dull grey colour, (although the colour can sometimes be affected by the impact of weathering and decorations):

Associated with asbestos cement roof and wall cladding sheets were also products such as asbestos cement rainwater downpipes and hoppers. Hoppers are located at the top of a rainwater downpipe, or at the junction of a number of rainwater pipes, as detailed in the image below: 

Due the excellent fire resistant properties of asbestos, asbestos cement was often used for flue pipes for boilers and heaters.  This enabled combustion waste products, often at high temperatures to be discharged from a building safely and with minimal risk of fire. Asbestos cement pipes were also used for air conditioning and ventilation systems:

Asbestos cement products and components were used and installed in UK construction for many years and are arguably the most commonly used asbestos product installed.  There were however many other uses/applications of asbestos in UK construction and next week I will provide some examples of these wider applications and how they may be identified.

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