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An Introduction to Asbestos

Thousands of buildings around the UK and Internationally still contain what, in some forms, is one of the most dangerous and hazardous materials ever used in the construction industry – Asbestos.

Asbestos may not be dangerous at all, but for some types, its tiny fibres, once disturbed, can penetrate the human respiratory system with what can be devastating effect.

Make no mistake, this can be a killer and it takes great skill, qualification and years of experience firstly to assess, then to successfully contain or remove that risk, ensuring that your property is an “asbestos safe area”.

Rhodes Asbestos has that highly specialised experience.

We have included more background information on Asbestos on our website, please follow our menu links to the relevant pages.

Also, you may wish to look at the following web pages:-

Government advice on asbestos removal

  • UK Government’s H&S Executive information on asbestos
  • What is asbestos
  • Information Leaflet
  • Where is it found … a pictorial guide
  • Handling asbestos
  • Asbestos – the hidden killer – video hosted by Ian Wright
  • Hammer Horror video – this was on the HSE website but is now on YouTube

Below we outline:-

  • Where in buildings asbestos can be found
  • Some Health Facts relating to Asbestos

Where in buildings can asbestos be found?

Some Asbestos Containing Materials(ACMs) are more vulnerable to damage and more likely to give off fibres than others. In general, the materials which contain a high percentage of asbestos are more easily damaged.

The list that follows is roughly in order of ease of fibre release (with the highest potential fibre release first). Sprayed coatings, lagging and insulating board are more likely to contain blue or brown asbestos. Asbestos insulation and lagging can contain up to 85 percent asbestos and is most likely to give off fibres.

Work with asbestos insulating board can result in equally high fibre release if power tools are used. On the other hand, asbestos cement contains only 10 – 15 percent asbestos. The asbestos is tightly bound into the cement and the material will only give off fibres if it is badly damaged or broken.

You are most likely to come across asbestos in these materials:

sprayed asbestos and asbestos loose packing – generally used as fire breaks in ceiling voids

moulded or preformed lagging – generally used in thermal insulation of pipes and boilers

sprayed asbestos – generally used as fire protection in ducts, firebreaks, panels, partitions, soffit boards, ceiling panels and around structural steelwork

insulating boards used for fire protection, thermal insulation, partitioning and ducts

some ceiling tiles

millboard, paper and paper products used for insulation of electrical equipment

Asbestos paper has also been used as a fire-proof facing on on wood fibreboard

Asbestos cement products which can be fully or semi-compressed into flat or corrugated sheets. Corrugated sheets are largely used as roofing and wall cladding. Other asbestos cement products include gutters, rainwater pipes and water tanks

certain textured coatings

bitumen roofing material

vinyl or thermoplastic floor tiles

Health Facts


Workers at risk from exposure to asbestos are – construction workers, engineers, car production workers, boiler maintenance workers, joiners, plumbers, electricians, roofers, painters, railway workers etc.

The range of products containing asbestos is so wide, it can be found in factories, offices, shops, schools, hospitals, construction sites and houses. Asbestos is sometimes found in products such as insulation boards, fire proofing panels, floor and ceiling tiles, fire blankets, protective clothing, brake and clutch linings, oven gloves, ironing boards, lagging for boilers and pipes, sprayed coatings, joints/packing/gaskets, fillers and reinforcements.

Risks from Breathing Asbestos Dust

Asbestos related diseases take between 15 and 40 years to develop. Numbers of people suffering from Asbestos disease are expected to rise in the next 25 years to 10,000 per year jn the UK. Most sufferers today were exposed to asbestos in the 40’s, 5O’s, 60’s and 1970’s. Workers are still being exposed particularly in the construction industry.

Asbestos Related Diseases

An asbestos fibre is typically 2000 times thinner than a human hair. These fibres bypass the lungs’ defence system and get deep into the lung, where serious damage is done. The major diseases associated with exposure to asbestos are: –


Scarring of the lung making it difficult to breathe, this disease is usually found in workers with high levels of asbestos exposure, such as insulation workers, but can also be found in workers with less exposure.


A cancer of the lining of the lung or abdomen, it can develop after only low levels of exposure, it has been found in school teachers, architects, people who live near high users of asbestos and the families of asbestos workers, who carried home asbestos dust on their clothing.

Lung Cancer

Exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing lung cancer.

Pleural Plaques

are localised thickening of the lung lining, a two layered membrane surrounding the lungs.

Diffuse Pleural Thickening

is a thickening of the lung lining or pleura over a larger area.

Smoking and Asbestos

It is very important to give up smoking if you have any of the asbestos diseases. Smoking is very likely to make your disease worse. Ask your doctor for help to give up smoking.

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