The Big Question
If you live in an older home, work in an older factory, have done home renovations at any time or have deferred maintenance wear and tear to think about then read on!
How old is your property? When was it built? No matter … it is extremely likely that there will be asbestos somewhere in the structure. Roof tiles and sheeting, soffit boards, wall panels, guttering and drain pipes, ceiling boards, fire-proofed piping, heat-resistant fabrics, car clutches and brakes – and the list goes on. All sorts of building materials somehow contain asbestos (10 – 40% they say), and for good reasons as it is one of the most versatile and useful minerals around.
“There was a little girl, who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
And when she was good, she was very very good
But when she was bad, she was horrid!”
This 19th century nursery rhyme may just as well refer to Asbestos – for when it is good it is very good, but when it is bad, it is horrid! And it’s the horrid we need to manage.
It’s just as well we know now what they did not know then!
We can’t escape from asbestos – it is everywhere. It is in our homes, our places of work and our schools. It is in the water, in the soil; we breathe it in and drink it and ‘eat’ it every day. Asbestos is silent, invisible but ever present. It is actually one of the most versatile and useful minerals in the world, but, and there is a but – it has its dangerous properties too.
Why should you care?
Asbestos is not only one of the most widely used minerals known to man, but it is also one of the oldest. It is an amazing mineral much prized for its heat resistant and fire retardant qualities and has been used since the Greeks were building temples.
However, from the 1930’s onwards, the global use of and knowledge about Asbestos increased many times over. Many manufactured products, used in building, construction, commerce and industry for insulation, decoration and fire-proofing were asbestos-based or contained asbestos. Do you remember those amazing asbestos-lined oven gloves you used to get? Or those ‘safe’ asbestos heaters?
And you should care because asbestos is friable, it crumbles easily and releases invisible fibres into the air, fibres which, when inhaled or ingested, are not broken down by the body but accumulate with fatal consequences.
When is Asbestos dangerous and who is at risk?
Asbestos is most hazardous when materials containing it in any form are disturbed or damaged. When stray multiple fibres are unavoidably breathed in, they cause cancer and other serious respiratory diseases which take many years to manifest. Once diagnosed however, they are debilitating, terrible to live with and fatal. This is why it is important you protect yourself now.
Who is at risk?
Anyone who is or was in constant and recurrent exposure to ‘asbestos air.’ People who work/ed in asbestos mines, asbestos mills, factories and shipyards where airborne fibres are ever present, are all at high risk as are those who manufacture, install or work in any way with items containing asbestos. Of course one must include people and families who live in towns situated near mines or asbestos producing factories as well.
Building contractors, workers and labourers, DIYers, demolishers and others who join this list where care and protection and caution are of paramount importance.
Exposure to Asbestos is a huge safety risk that must not be taken lightly. If you have Asbestos in your home, have it professionally removed.
What are the health effects of Asbestos?
Bad. One word will do. Bad. The body cannot destroy, break down or remove asbestos fibres once they are lodged in lung and other body tissues. They just accumulate and remain in place were eventually they cause disease.
Primary diseases caused by asbestos include Asbestosis, a chronic non-cancerous respiratory disease, interstitial fibrosis, mesothelioma, pleural plaque and lung cancer.
What about Repairs, Renovations and home Remodeling?
Have you worked on your home these past years as one does? Have you repaired your roof tiles? Ripped out damaged ceilings? Re-insulated your attic? Replaced or installed fire doors? Installed, changed or restored flooring? Extended or remodeled your home?
Products like undamaged ceiling tiles, floor tiles, cabinet tops, shingles, roof tiles, fire doors etc. will not release asbestos fibres unless disturbed, broken, impaired, spoilt or ‘injured’ in some way. For example, if an asbestos ceiling panel is drilled or broken it may release fibres but if left undisturbed, it will not – the integrity of the product will remain intact. Sprayed on asbestos insulation is highly friable, ceiling or wall panels and floor tiles are not.
If the condition of any asbestos-related materials around you is good and if the materials are not damaged in any way or located where they could be damaged, then health risks may be lessened. However, damage to and deterioration of asbestos-based safety and building materials can occur in many and varied ways. Ageing, weathering, water damage, recurrent vibration, repair actions like drilling, sanding, cutting and hammering can all weaken products thereby making it easier for fibres to be released.
What can YOU do about it?
‘Knowledge is power’ as we know so let’s get all clichéd up and follow on with ‘better the devil you know that the devil you don’t!’
It’s not possible to avoid it completely, and even though Asbestos was banned outright in South Africa in 2009 it is still mined, asbestos workers are protected and legislation is strict about labeling and warnings. Worldwide, this useful substance is being managed, and the good thing is that you can manage it too. You just have to be informed.
What do WE do about it?
Once booked, a qualified inspector will come in to your nominated place and take samples as required and discussed. The inspection generally takes 60 – 90 minutes and access to all areas in the structure/home is necessary. Thereafter, samples are sent to a professional laboratory and after 5 days results are made available along with your comprehensive written report, photographs and our recommendations.