What was asbestos used for?

3rd February 2017

Asbestos was widely used across the UK until medical evidence showed that it was incredibly harmful to people’s health. Today, it is estimated that approximately 50 per cent of all homes in the UK have some form of asbestos within them. While for many that will not pose an immediate health risk, it’s important to know where you might find asbestos in your home or workplace and what to do about it.

Is asbestos still used in the UK?

No – the production of new products containing asbestos was made illegal in 1992, while selling and fixing of asbestos containing materials was banned outright in 1999. However, such was the prevalent use that asbestos can still be found in many places today.

The significant risk now is with regards to asbestos containing materials which are getting old. Deteriorating and damaged asbestos products release the fibres into the air allowing them to be breathed in. This is where asbestos becomes dangerous and has been proven to cause lung disease and cancer.

When was asbestos used?

Asbestos was widely used in many building materials between 1930 and the 1960s, although it continued to be used in later decades too. If your home or workplace was built during this time, it is likely that some materials will contain asbestos. Since 1976 British manufacturers have put labels on their products to show they contain asbestos while since 1986 all products containing asbestos carry a European label. These can aid identification but with the prevalent use being prior to this signage coming in, no label cannot be assumed to mean no asbestos.

Why was asbestos used?

At the time when asbestos was being used it is important to remember that the health risks were unknown. Instead manufacturers and builders had a readily-available material which was both strong and heat-resistant. Asbestos was ideal for any process involving the conservation or preservation of heat. The fibre gave protection against fire, corrosion, cold, acids, alkalis, electricity, noise, energy loss, vibration, salt water, frost, dust and vermin – which explains it’s many varied uses. Illness because of exposure to asbestos also only becomes clear many years after the fibres are breathed in, so symptoms of serious diseases did not begin to appear until it was too late.

Where might you find it in your home or workplace?

The main areas of your home likely to house asbestos are your roof and ceilings due to the strength and heat protection properties. It was also used on things like boiler flue pipes, floor tiles, cold water storage tanks, gutters and outbuildings.

Some other uses you might not be aware of are in oven gloves, old cookers which may have asbestos lining on the doors and electric storage heaters manufactured before 1975. In the 1930s and 40s, asbestos was even used on Christmas decorations as fake snow. Considering the danger from inhalation, it is also shocking to learn asbestos containing cigarette filters, talcum powder and hairdryers were once sold.

What to do if you suspect asbestos

It’s important that you get a licenced professional to do an inspection as any disturbance of the asbestos can release the fibres into the air causing a risk to health. ASI Environmental provide nationwide testing. We are UKAS accredited for asbestos surveying, which is your guarantee that we work to strict guidelines and the highest professional standards. You can read all about the type of surveys we carry out here.