Asbestos: Health Hazard

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material taking many different forms the three main being:

  1. white asbestos (chrysotile)
  2. brown asbestos (amosite)
  3. blue asbestos (crocidolite).

It can still be found today in many buildings including flooring/ceiling tiles, roof shingles & flashing, siding, insulation, pipe cement, pipe lagging, insulation around boilers, window panelling, cement sheds and garage wall panels.

Due to its inexpensive and positive features asbestos became one of the primary building materials in the 20th century. During this time an estimated 6 million tonnes were imported into the UK.

Owing to the many advantages of the substance, asbestos was hailed as a ‘wonder material’. However, health concerns were beginning to be raised and the ‘wonder material’ was soon to be known as a hazardous health risk.

What are the health risks asbestos causes?

When asbestos is disturbed it releases loose fibres into the air. Inhaling these loose fibres cause several serious and even fatal lung diseases. These include pleural effusion; pleural plaques; asbestosis of the lungs; lung cancer; and mesothelioma, a cancer of the inner lining of the chest wall or abdominal cavity. So there was no surprise when it was finally banned in 1999.

According to Waldman and Williams (2009), there is a mesothelioma epidemic in the UK, and that Britain has the highest rates of it in the world. Between c.2015 and 2016, it is expected that the average number of asbestos related deaths will increase to around 5,000 deaths annually.

The Government passed the Mesothelioma Act 2014 to establish the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS). People who have contracted mesothelioma after working with asbestos and cannot find an employer or insurer to claim from can receive £123,000 as part of the new compensation scheme, which started in April 2014. The first payments were made in July that year. The £380 million compensation package has been funded by insurance companies and will pay in excess of 800 eligible people in 2014 and 300 every year after that, until 2024. Sufferers, or their dependents, will receive substantially higher payments than the statutory schemes currently operated by government.

If you suspect that your property contains asbestos it is advised to leave potential asbestos undisturbed and contact advice from your local authority (see

If you think that you have been exposed to asbestos and are concerned about your health contact your local GP.