Asbestos Information – Frequently Asked Questions

What actually is asbestos?

Asbestos is the commercial name given to a wide range of naturally occurring crystalline fibrous silicate minerals (minerals are the “building blocks” for rocks). There are two main mineral types; serpentine, which includes chrysotile (white asbestos), and amphibole which includes crocidolite (blue asbestos) and Amosite (brown asbestos). Chrysotile can be found naturally occurring in many countries and was, and in some countries still is commercially mined where abundant. Amphibole asbestos types are rarer and all but some small scale mining operations have now ceased.

Why is it dangerous?

If asbestos materials are disturbed, small particles (known as fibres) can become airborne and breathed in. Inhalation of asbestos fibres can lead to fatal diseases such as lung cancer, mesothelioma (a cancer of the linings of the lungs or lower digestive tract) and asbestosis (a chronic fibrosis of the lungs), as well as several other conditions such as pleural plaques and cancer of the larynx. All of these conditions have a long latency period which can be several decades. Most asbestos materials pose little risk unless they are disturbed in some way that allows fibres to be released into the air.

Why was it used?

Asbestos fibres have many useful properties such as high tensile strength, and chemical, electrical and heat resistance which, before its health effects were understood, made it ideal for use as insulation and fire protection materials and as a strengthening additive to many building materials.

Where is it likely to be found?

Although the importation and use of asbestos in the UK and Channel Islands has ceased over a series of government imposed bans, the common and widespread use of asbestos containing materials in the construction industry before the bans means that there is a legacy of asbestos materials within many buildings. Commonly found materials containing asbestos include asbestos insulating board (A.I.B.), asbestos cement, asbestos ropes and textiles, textured coatings (such as Artex), vinyl floor tillers and coverings, and bitumen felts and adhesives. Sprayed insulation and lagging materials containing asbestos are thankful less commonly found these days due to such materials often having being removed. Debris and residues, however, can be present due to poor historic removal work and can often present a greater risk of exposure to airborne fibres than when the parent materials were still present.

Who are UKAS?

The United Kingdom Accreditation Service is the sole national accreditation body recognised by government to assess, against internationally agreed standards, organisations that provide certification, testing, and inspection and calibration services. Accreditation by UKAS demonstrates the competence, impartiality and performance capability of these evaluators. UKAS is independent of Government but is appointed as the national accreditation body by the Accreditation Regulations 2009 (SI No 3155/2009) and operates under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government through the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.