If your property was constructed before 1999 it is possible that it contains materials made from asbestos. Properties built since the mid 1990’s are very unlikely to contain asbestos in the fabric of the building. Asbestos fibres are strong and resistant to heat and chemicals. In the past this led to their use in a wide range of building materials and products. Asbestos that is found in the home is safe whilst it remains undamaged and undisturbed. If it is damaged, either through impact or as a result of DIY, asbestos fibres can be released into the atmosphere. It is the airborne asbestos fibres that make asbestos a dangerous material.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral made up of many small fibres. There are three main types:
- Chrysotile (White)
- Amosite (Brown)
- Crocidolite (Blue)
The colours cannot be detected by the naked eye and they can only be identified in a laboratory.
Why is asbestos potentially a problem?
All materials containing asbestos can be harmful if fibres are inhaled, and those with prolonged exposure to asbestos fibres are more likely to develop respiratory diseases. It is extremely unlikely residents will be exposed to high levels of asbestos within their homes.
Day to day exposure to asbestos
The Health and Safety Executive confirms that there is a very low level of fibres in the air everywhere because asbestos has been used so extensively in the past. Exposure to this low level of fibres is unlikely to harm people’s health.
If you are a Council tenant, Harlow Council will inspect any area that you may be concerned about and if appropriate employ a specialist contractor to encapsulate or remove the asbestos.
Where will you find asbestos products or materials in your home?
It is not always easy to tell whether a product contains asbestos, as modern asbestos-free materials often look similar. Remember it is usually older products that contain asbestos.
The following areas and appliances are where most asbestos may be found:
- Domestic equipment
- Asbestos lagging
- Warm air heating systems
- Insulating boards
- Textured plasters
- Garage and shed roofs
- Water tanks
- WC cisterns and toilet seats
- Marley type floor tiles
- Materials for stippling ceilings, walls, etc.
There are a number of materials where the asbestos is securely bound within the matrix that even if damaged there is unlikely to be a large release of fibres. Such materials are floor tiles, WC cisterns, toilet seats, artex and asbestos cement products.
How do you know if a material contains asbestos?
Identifying asbestos products can be difficult. If you think a product contains asbestos but are unsure, the manufacturer or supplier should be able to help you. Alternatively, you can Contact Harlow.
What should you do about asbestos in your home?
Do not panic if you have asbestos materials in your home. Remember, if the asbestos materials are in good condition, removal should not be necessary and disturbance of such materials by non-specialists could in fact cause more risk to you or your family’s health. The Health and Safety Executive guidance is to manage asbestos in situ rather than remove it, however, a survey will identify if any action is required.
- If you are a Council tenant, please contact an Advisor at Contact Harlow who will engage an asbestos specialist to inspect the materials. Do not disturb asbestos materials under any circumstances.
- If you are a private tenant or Housing Association, please contact your landlord.
- If you are a private owner you should employ a licensed contractor to inspect and if necessary, remove the asbestos. A full list of licensed contractors can be found on the Health and Safety Executive’s website.
Do's and don’ts when carrying out DIY
- If you suspect that you have asbestos materials in your home, extra care should be taken when doing DIY.
- DO NOT attempt work on sprayed asbestos, lagging or insulating boards, as a licensed asbestos removal contractor must undertake this. If in doubt, seek advice through Contact Harlow. It is most unlikely that you will find sprayed asbestos in your home.
- DO NOT drill, cut or disturb asbestos unless absolutely necessary.
- Do not scrape or sand asbestos materials before painting and decorating. Some types of asbestos materials are very soft and can release large numbers of fibres if rubbed or scraped.
How should you dispose of asbestos?
It is against the law to put any asbestos waste in a dustbin – seek advice from Contact Harlow about making arrangements for collection and disposal at a designated site. Asbestos waste is a toxic and dangerous waste, which must be disposed of properly at a licensed waste site.
Essex County Council will make arrangements for disposing of a small amount of bonded asbestos waste (up to 40kg) if it is suitably wrapped, free of charge, but you should check with them first.
Depending on the nature of the works, depends on what equipment will be needed for the removal of any asbestos containing materials, from the contractors wearing just personal protective equipment, using a special vacuum cleaner and sheeting for minor works. For major works, the asbestos removal contractor will have a full enclosure, with protective clothing, respirators, shower unit, sealing of rooms etc. All asbestos removed needs to be doubled bagged and taken away from site. If we have to remove asbestos from your property, you will be advised on the type of works, following an inspection and report on the type and condition of the asbestos.
Asbestos removal will generally cause damage to your decorations as the areas have to be sheeted up and made airtight to prevent the spread of fibres. When the sheeting is removed, this will often damage the decorations because of the adhesion of the tape. Unfortunately, Harlow Council will not make good any decoration damaged during the asbestos removal work.
Where can you get further advice?
Further advice on asbestos is available from:
You should consult your general practitioner or health board if you are concerned about your own health, or the health of a member of your family if you think that you or they have been exposed to airborne asbestos.