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Asbestos dangers not limited to commercial buildings

The significant danger posed by asbestos in domestic properties was brought to light recently when amosite from the loft insulation of a fire-damaged house was found in neighbouring gardens.

The fatal fire caused significant damage to the roof of the house near Consett, and residents claim the roof cavity was not covered for several weeks. This delay allowed asbestos fibres to become airborne, causing a considerable health issue for the neighbouring area.

Specialist asbestos consultants

A housing firm dealing with repairs to the property stated that, although they had approached the necessary asbestos consultants, damage from the fire was such that it restricted access and delayed the roof’s repair.

Director of Operations at Derwentside Homes, Steve Melvin, said:

“Throughout this project we were aware that asbestos containing material was present and we had engaged specialist consultants and contractors who informed the HSE appropriately.”

Asbestos training

Hiring consultants with the appropriate level of knowledge and training is a crucial aspect of dealing with an asbestos emergency, whether in a commercial or residential setting. Contractors must undergo specialist asbestos training if their work involves handling the substance.

Asbestos awareness courses are also obligatory for workers likely to come into contact with it. By understanding the dangers posed by asbestos-containing materials and what ACMs look like, they can spot potential issues and act accordingly.

Asbestos-related disease remains at a peak

Dave Wear lives next door to the fire-damaged house, and has already suffered loss due to asbestos. His sister died from asbestos-related cancer, and Mr Wear’s concerns are now for his own children and grandchildren, as well as those of his neighbours.

He said that his sister died 12 to 15 years ago, and expressed worries for future generations:

“Hopefully, they have not been affected, but this material has been outside getting blown around. Ten to 15 years down the line this could affect my grandchildren and neighbours’ children who have playing out amongst it.”

Asbestos found in many household products

Asbestos was included in the manufacture of numerous building and interior design products during the 20th century. It can be found in vinyl tiles and other floor coverings, roofing materials for garages and sheds, as well as decorative paints such as Artex, which were commonly used on walls and ceilings during the 1980s..

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics show Mr Wear’s concerns are well-founded, as deaths from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases continue unabated. In 2013, there were 2,538 recorded deaths from mesothelioma, a particularly aggressive form of cancer attributed to asbestos exposure.

Although mortality rates for asbestos-related lung cancer are more difficult to establish due to the fact some victims will also have been smokers, HSE estimate a similar figure as for mesothelioma.

The UK ban on asbestos in 2000, means the substance can be present in any building constructed up until the end of 1999. Asbestos becomes a health and safety problem when it starts to degrade, potentially releasing fibres into the air. Given the length of time the substance has been in place, disintegration of ACMs is a common occurrence.