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What Exactly is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring minerals, which has many unique properties, including sound absorption, fire, heat, electrical and chemical resistance, strength and flexibility.

Because of its fibrous nature it can be woven into fabrics and used to reinforce cement and plastics. It was very popular among manufacturers and builders in the 20th Century, who used it for building and electrical insulation.

Types of asbestos

There are three different types of asbestos; white, brown and blue. White asbestos is the least harmful and is the main type that is found in roofing, in particular industrial and garage, where the fibres were mixed with cement to create fibre cement.

Asbestos roofing 

The asbestos in fibre cement sheeting mainly contains white asbestos fibres, and while we are not denying that working with asbestos can be dangerous, the danger is only there when handled incorrectly; when the asbestos is disturbed then breathed in. On this site, our aim is to guide you with our products and easy explanation on how to use them, or to contractors for industrial and commercial projects to enable you to deal with your asbestos roof in a safe and cost effective way.

History of Asbestos

Asbestos can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, who named it, and evidence of it has been found throughout history. In more recent years, asbestos usage really took off in England in the 1800s, where it was mainly used in the railroad industry, expanding to manufacturing of ships. Since asbestos does not occur naturally in the UK, it was imported from countries where it was mined, the majority from Canada and South Africa. From 1960-1970 approx. 2,194,418* tonnes was imported into the UK.

Why was asbestos phased out?

Eventually, in the 20th Century, researchers noticed people dying or becoming ill with lung problems in the towns where asbestos was being handled. The first case of asbestosis was diagnosed in 1924, when a young woman died after working all her life with asbestos.

Regulations on Asbestos

After that incident, in 1931 laws were passed to regulate the asbestos industry more strictly, making sure that proper ventilation was used when working with the mineral. Despite this, people still continued to work under dangerous circumstances and many sued their employers, who downplayed any health risk.

Finally, in 1985 the use and importation of brown and blue asbestos was banned. White asbestos, except in a few small cases, was banned in 1999. In 2006 The Control of Asbestos Regulations law was passed by the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), which enforced much stricter and more regulated handling of asbestos.

Asbestos substitutes

There are substitutes for asbestos available, including fibreglass insulation, and some companies who used to sell asbestos enforced cement for roofing now provide new products containing organic fibres. However, if you have an asbestos roof and don’t want to replace it, which the HSE recommend against since it will disturb the fibres, it is important that you maintain it, and we’re here to help.

*Figure taken from British Geological Survey: Statistical Summary of the Mineral Industry as of 8th July 2011