A building material that was used extensively throughout the 20th century and used in housing up until 2000, it is important to understand why asbestos is so dangerous, and what to do if you find it in your home.
Although asbestos was considered ideal for fireproofing and insulation, if asbestos fibres become airborne, even the smallest amount of dust can be considered dangerous.
Anyone working with asbestos needs to take a great amount of care in removing it to avoid generating dust that could be inhaled.
It is likely that the majority of buildings in the UK will contain asbestos contained marterials.
What to do if you find asbestos in the home
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises home owners to visit the GOV.UK website or contact your local council.
HSE stresses that it does not actively encourage DIY removal of asbestos without seeking advice from those two sources.
Unfortunately, homeowners are the likeliest people to come across asbestos, especially white asbestos (chrysotile), where it is usually found bonded with cement roof panels.
White asbestos is considered to be a Class 1 carcinogen, and all precautions must be taken to avoid dust generation and inhalation during its removal.
Disposable gloves, and dust masks must be worn and it is advised that people thoroughly wet asbestos sheets to ensure that dust is kept to a minimum while removing them.
It is important that any panels are not sanded, brushed with wire pads, or broken. If there are any metal fittings attached to the sheets, cutting should take place to remove them.
This can be done by drilling or sawing, although hand tools are the preferred option in order to keep dust levels at bay.
Once that asbestos is removed from the building, it is important to wipe down surfaces or carefully remove and plastic sheets that were laid down during the process.
All used overalls, gloves, masks, and damped cloths must also be placed with the disposed asbestos.
The asbestos itself must be double wrapped in a strong polythene and sealed with duct tape around all edges.
What to do once asbestos is removed from the home
For those who live in the Leeds area, asbestos can be disposed of (at a charge) at the Kirkstall Road Household Waste Recycling Site.
It is crucial that any asbestos deliveries are pre-booked at least one full day in advance. It is also advised that any asbestos is not delivered in an enclosed vehicle unless with a separate cab or loading bay.
Otherwise it is advised that all windows are open during the transportation of the material. Any asbestos not properly wrapped will be rejected.
For more information about getting rid of asbestos material in the Leeds area, see this handy booklet published by Leeds City Council.
But what are the dangers of asbestos?
As mentioned earlier, even the smallest dust particle is considered dangerous and great care needs to be taken to avoid any asbestos inhalation.
There are a number of diseases that are associated with asbestos including:
Asbestosis involves the scarring of lung tissues and occurs after extensive exposure to fibres over a long period of time.
Symptoms of the disease includes severe shortness of breath. Increased cases of asbestosis can lead to respiratory failure.
Treatment includes oxygen therapy and immunisation against pneumococcal pneumonia and influenza due to increased sensitivity.
Exposure to asbestos greatly increases the risk of Mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the chest lining, pleura, or peritoneum.
Symptoms of mesothelioma might not even appear until up to 50 years after exposure to asbestos and includes shortness of breath, coughing, and chest pains.
Treatment for Mesothelioma includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy.
Often mesothelioma has a poor prognosis.
Pleural plaques and thickening
Pleural thickening is the increased density of the chest lining, often causing a shortness of breath that usually indicates a high level of exposure to asbestos. The thickening of the chest lining can also increase the risk of certain cancers.
Like mesothelioma, it can take many years for the onset of pleural thickening to occur.
Pleural plaques involve the thickening in spots of chest lining and ossify, although they do not cause any symptoms.
That said, they also indicate an increased risk of Mesothelioma.
One of the most well-known diseases caused by asbestos is lung cancer.
High exposure to asbestos combined with regular smoking is thought to increase the risk of lung cancer by a great extent but can take many years for the symptoms to first occur.
Symptoms of lung cancer includes coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing up blood.
Management of lung cancer can occur in the form of surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, bronchoscopy and palliative care.