Asbestos disposal requires careful consideration and planning as it can pose significant and often long-term fatal health risks if not dealt with properly.
Asbestos was used extensively as a building material in the UK from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s. It was used for a variety of purposes and was ideal for fireproofing and insulation. Any building built before 2000, i.e. houses, factories, offices, schools and hospitals may contain asbestos.
Many asbestos materials in good condition are safe unless asbestos fibres become airborne, which happens when materials are damaged.
Asbestos cement is just ordinary cement mixed with asbestos, in some cases asbestos can make up over a third of the cement. It is a hard, grey material which was moulded and compressed. The asbestos is held tightly within the structure of the cement and not much is given off when this is broken, however more asbestos fibres will be given off when it is cut by saw or drilled.
A licence is not required to carry out work with asbestos cement. Work with any type of asbestos is dangerous however, and a degree of caution should be exercised as asbestos cement can sometimes be found with other more dangerous asbestos materials such as sprayed coatings. It would therefore be prudent to ensure you check before you carry out any asbestos disposal work.
Typical asbestos cement applications include:
Asbestos cement roofs
These are mainly made up of large sheets of corrugated asbestos cement; they are often found on industrial or farmyard buildings, but also can be found as roofs on garages and sheds. They are usually covered in mosses as they’ve been there for many years. Asbestos cement is very fragile and deaths and injuries from falls through asbestos roofs are common if asbestos disposal is undertaken incorrectly.
Asbestos wall cladding
Shape and structure similar to roof sheeting, and is often found on walls or as walls of buildings with asbestos cement roofs.
Asbestos downpipes and gutters
Sometimes attached at the end of cement roofs in warehouse type buildings and frequently in need of asbestos disposal.
Asbestos cement flues
These may be found in boiler systems (both domestic and commercial) air conditioning and ventilation systems.
Asbestos textured coatings
Textured coatings were used to produce decorative finishes on ceilings and walls. In the past, they had various trade names such as ‘Artex’, which, depending on the particular decorative finish required, i.e. peaks or patterns are hard and were originally white in colour. These have often been painted over.
The asbestos fibres are held in place within the structure and are not easily given off and breathed in, however they are easily released if the coatings are sanded down. A degree of caution should therefore be exercised as sometimes textured coatings are applied on top of other types of asbestos such as asbestos insulating board.
Asbestos floor tiles, textiles and composites
These asbestos containing materials are not very distinctive from what is used now. A degree of caution should therefore be exercised and it may be prudent to ask the building owners about how long they’ve had certain things. Researching the site history and looking for a trade name may leader to further product research.
You may sometimes find asbestos floor tiles hidden under carpets. Asbestos textiles can be found in fuse boxes behind the actual fuse. Old fire blankets and heat resistant gloves can also be made out of asbestos textiles. Asbestos composites can be toilet cisterns and seats, window sills, and bath panels. Asbestos paper was used for lining under tiles and inside metal cladding.
Asbestos sprayed coatings
Sprayed coatings are usually white or grey in colour with a rough surface, although they may have been painted. They normally take the form of insulation on the underside of roofs and sometimes the sides of buildings and warehouses. Sprayed coatings are also used as fire protection on steel and reinforced concrete beams/columns and on the underside of floors.
It was very easy to overspray or get a ‘splash back’ from the equipment used to apply this so there is likely to be debris around the sprayed area.
These coatings can contain up to 85% asbestos and break up very easily. It is one of the most dangerous materials containing asbestos. Even minor disturbance of sprayed coatings can release large quantities of asbestos fibres into the air where they can be breathed in.
Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB)
This material is normally found in building items such as wall panels boards, ceiling tiles and plasterboard. It is difficult to tell the difference between asbestos insulating board items and non-asbestos materials.
Asbestos Insulating Board was commonly used as fireproofing material but it had many other uses such as:
- Partition walls
- Fireproofing panels in fire doors
- Lift shaft linings
- Ceiling tiles
- Panels below windows
Asbestos Lagging and Insulation
This is one of the most dangerous materials containing asbestos. You are more at risk from breathing in asbestos fibres because disturbance of the lagging or insulation releases fibres very easily in to the air that you breathe.
This material is mainly found in or on heating systems such as around boilers or calorifiers and around pipework.
This type of asbestos has many different appearances but is mostly a fibrous material which flakes and powders easily. When applied to pipes it is often covered in a protective coating (or painted) which can be any colour, thus making it more difficult to identify.
Loose fill asbestos
This is probably the most dangerous asbestos containing material. Loose fill asbestos is made up of pure asbestos and if disturbed can release large amounts of fibres in to the air, which can be breathed in.
This was used to insulate industrial and domestic premises so can be found in between cavity walls, under floorboards and in loft spaces. This is a loose, fluffy insulation material (similar to candyfloss), which may be blue-grey or whitish in colour.
Are you at risk?
You are mostly at risk when:
- You are working on an unfamiliar site
- The building you are working on was built before the year 2000
- Asbestos-containing materials were not identified before the job was started
- Asbestos-containing materials were identified but this information was not passed on by the people in charge to the people doing the work
- You don’t know how to recognise and work safely with asbestos
- You know how to work safely with asbestos but you choose to put yourself at risk by not following proper precautions, perhaps to save time or because no one else is following proper procedures
Remember, as long as the asbestos is not damaged or located somewhere where it can be easily damaged it won’t be a risk to you. You can’t see or smell asbestos fibres in the air. The effects of being exposed to asbestos take many years to show up – avoid breathing it in now. Smoking increases the risk many times. Asbestos is only a danger when fibres are made airborne and breathed in.
The following occupations may at some stage come into contact with asbestos:
- Heating and ventilation engineers
- Demolition workers
- Carpenters and joiners
- Roofing contractors
- Painters and decorators
- Construction workers
- Fire and burglar alarm installers
- Shop fitters
- Gas fitters
- Computer installers
- General maintenance staff eg caretakers
- Telecommunications engineers
- Building surveyors
- Cable layers
It’s not easy to tell if materials contain asbestos from how they look. It can only be properly identified in a specialist laboratory. Such examples include:
- Asbestos used as packing between floors and in partition walls
- Sprayed (‘limpet’) asbestos on structural beams and girders
- Lagging on pipework, boilers, calorifiers and heat exchangers
- Asbestos insulating board – ceiling tiles, partition walls, service duct covers, fire breaks, heater cupboards, door panels, lift shaft lining, fire surrounds and soffits
- Asbestos cement products such as roof and wall cladding, bath panels, boiler and incinerator flues, fire surrounds, gutters, rainwater pipes, and water tanks
- Other products such as floor tiles, mastics, sealants, rope seals and gaskets (in pipework, millboard, paper products, cloth (fire blankets) and bituminous products such as roofing felt and the like
How do I deal with asbestos waste?
Make sure you double-bag it and label as asbestos waste. Initially it may be worth contacting the Local Authority or Environment Agency to find out if they will assist you in disposing of it, however they may charge for this service. Alternatively, you can contact Equip Logistics for a quotation, in order to ensure the waste is disposed correctly at a licensed tip.
We are able to offer a cost effective and efficient service for asbestos disposal and asbestos removal.
Please contact us for further details and a no-obligation quotation.