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What materials contain one or more of the various types of asbestos?

| by Clinton Moore

Asbestos is an incredibly dangerous and harmful material that may still be found in several residential homes and industrial premises. Thankfully, asbestos can no longer be used as a construction material, but any property built or refurbished before the year 2000 may pose a threat today. If asbestos containing materials are well maintained, in good condition and located where they are unlikely to suffer from damage, the threat of inhaling deadly fibres is low. But it is still beneficial to know about the different types of asbestos and which common building materials used to contain this mineral.

Ceiling, walls, and floor cavity

Loose fill asbestos was used to insulate residential and industrial premises, so is often found between cavity walls, under floorboards and in loft spaces. It is a loose and fluffy kind of material, which resembles candyfloss but is usually blue-grey or white in colour. This is arguably the most harmful material because it’s made up of pure asbestos and if disturbed can release a lot of fibre into the air, which can then be breathed in. Only HSE-licensed contractors should work with this material.

Lagging

Commonly found in or on heating systems such as around boilers or pipework. Although lagging has different appearances, it is a mostly fibrous material that flakes easily. Unfortunately, it used to be covered in a protective coating, making it more difficult to identify. Again, this is another extremely dangerous material, which should be removed and disposed of by a capable and accredited firm.

Sprayed coatings

On the underside of roofs and sometimes the side of buildings you’ll find a sprayed coating of asbestos insulation. However, it was also used as fire protection on steel, reinforced concrete columns and the underside of floors. It may have been painted over, but is typically white or grey in colour with a rough surface. Seeing as sprayed coatings are made up of 85 per cent asbestos and breaks up easily, even minor disturbances can release large quantities of harmful fibres into the air. This is yet another material best left to licensed contractors.

Insulating board

This fireproofing material is known as Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB) but was also used for partition walls, lift shaft linings, ceiling tiles and panels below windows. Regrettably, it is quite difficult to tell the different between AIB and non-asbestos materials. Although non-licensed workers with appropriate instruction and training can carry out short duration work on AIB, this material often calls for a licensed contractor, as it is quite hard to identify.

Textiles and composites

Asbestos floor tiles were once quite popular in several buildings and may still be found hidden underneath carpet. Old fire blankets, heat resistant gloves, textiles in fuse boxes, toilet cisterns, windows sills and bath panels may also contain asbestos. Textiles and composites can be difficult to identify, so you may need to contact the building owner or research the material’s manufacturer. Non-licensed work is allowed on textiles and composites. Additional types of asbestos include textured coatings and cement products, but the aforementioned materials generally pose the most risk.

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