Asbestos - How I Dealt With It In My Home
Removing Asbestos - get the professional in
During much of the 20th century asbestos was a commonly used material in several different forms within the construction industry. With characteristics such as resistance to high temperatures, its strength and its insulating properties it can be found in private homes, schools, hospitals and commercial buildings across the world. However in the 1970s it was finally, conclusively, proven that inhaling asbestos dust led to serious and usually life-threatening illnesses, such as some forms of lung cancer and mesothelioma. Since then it has been banned for use but, of course, the problem is that it still exists in many buildings to the present day, as I found out for myself when having a new bathroom fitted.
If it is present in your home, the risk of the dust being released from the product means it needs to be either removed or contained. Often, depending on the item in question, containment is safer than removal because during the removal process the item may become broken and hence release the dust fibres, and the real harm can be done when the dust fibres become airborne and are inhaled by people living or working in the building.
My asbestos cement water tank
Finding asbestos in the home
When a plumber, who was installing my new bathroom informed me that the cold water tank in my loft was made from asbestos cement I was surprised, not least because the full survey I had done when I bought the house 2 years earlier had not mentioned it. Also I had been living with this water tank for 2 years so I was naturally concerned.
The plumber suggested I call an expert asbestos removal company for advice, which I did. Fortunately for me asbestos cement is not the same as some of the other products such as ceiling tiles, pipe insulation, floor tiles that were used in homes so it does not pose the same dangers of inhaling the airborne fibres. Nevertheless they did suggest that I replace the tank.
With the danger that asbestos poses, dealing with it is not something that should be put off, even if the item, whether it is a water tank or some other product, is in good condition, building materials do deteriorate over time so it is better to deal with the problem as soon as possible. And, of course, given the dangers, this is clearly a job for the professionals, although I am shocked to find that there are some places on the internet where there is advice on how to remove asbestos yourself. Personally, I just didn't want to take the risk. Whatever the cost of getting a professional in, it has surely got to be worth it for your own peace of mind to know the job has been done properly, following all current safety regulations and procedures. I just couldn't sleep at night worrying about it being done right.
Professional, licensed asbestos removers will wear protective clothing, including gloves and footwear. They will also have to use breathing apparatus and goggles so that gives you an indication of how potentially serious a hazard this material is.
What to do next
But don't panic if you think you might have an asbestos product in your own home – not all asbestos based products are dangerous so it is essential to get a professional test done to determine whether there is any risk. Don't just assume that because you have, say, a water tank with a label saying "Made with asbestos cement" that your health is immediately at risk. The best advice is to get a proper laboratory analysis carried out by a professional. As it turned out I didn't need the full breathing mask and goggle get up and my house wasn't turned into an isolation zone.
In the case of water tanks such as mine made from asbestos cement the commonest recommendation, assuming no deterioration is present, is to leave it where it is, encapsulate it safely and simply install the replacement elsewhere in the loft. Whilst this may not seem like the best recommendation initially, trying to remove a large water tank through a small loft hatch will invariably mean the tank has to be broken up.
If you have one of the more dangerous types of asbestos and removal is recommended you will find it is a very serious business – absolutely everything likely to come into contact with any asbestos dust needs to be protected with heavy duty coverings. Any tiny nook where some asbestos dust could become trapped is a potential health hazard so the people and the building need to be rigorously protected. And disposal of the material itself and any protective covering used during the removal is a tightly controlled and licensed procedure.
Where is Asbestos Still Found?
- Floor Tiles
- Ceiling Tiles
- Pipe Insulation
- Garage Roofs
I was fortunate that the "asbestos" in my home was asbestos cement but there are still plenty of materials comprising a more dangerous form of asbestos such as:
In the past asbestos was mixed with cement in order to strengthen it and one of the places this was used was in house building as asbestos shingles for siding or cladding the outside of a building. Asbestos shingles are fireproof, heat proof and provide better insulation than ordinary cement shingles. They were also relatively low cost and required minimal maintenance so you can see why it seemed like such a good idea to use asbestos before the dangers were discovered.
Asbestos Ceiling Tiles
Asbestos ceiling tiles can be hard to identify and it is not possible to be certain they are made of asbestos without having them tested. A specialist remover should be able to help you by taking a sample and having it tested in a laboratory. A proper scientific analysis is the only way to be certain that the ceiling tiles contain asbestos so make sure you emply a liocenses asbestos specialist and obtain proof of the components of the tiles from the laboratory analysis.
If the tiles are tested and do prove to contain asbestos then, as always with this dangerous product, don't be tempted to try to save money by removing them yourself. They can be brittle and liable to crack easily when being removed so increase your risk of exposure to the deadly fibres.
Asbestos Floor Tiles
If asbestos floor tiles have been definitely identified in a property then the options are to have them removed completely or to contain the hazard by installing a new floor over the old tiles. Encapsulating old asbestos floor tiles under a new flooring layer reduces the risk of the asbestos fibres being released into the air in the event that a tile was damaged or broken.
If there is already damage to the flooring then a safer option in the long-term is to have them removed, although this is a tricky and messy job best left to a professional asbestos removal company.
Asbestos Pipe Insulation
Asbestos pipe insulation, as with many asbestos-based products was common in buildings up to the late 1970s. It usually has a corrugated appearance but not always so the only way to be sure a material contains asbestos is to have it properly analysed. Even within the same construction product the actual type of asbestos can differ so a professional laboratory analysis is the only definitive way to know what material you have to deal with.
Some asbestos pipe insulation had additional foam insulation added on top, making identification harder but, paradoxically, this often encapsulates any asbestos material, making it safer and less likely to release its harmful fibres.
Remember asbestos fibres are not visible to the naked eye; one of the reasons they posed such an enduring hazard in the last century – so even is you are just taking a quick look, wear a suitable mask and goggles.