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Asbestos

Responsibility for asbestos matters is shared between:

Information on asbestos for businesses is available from Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

Householders requiring advice on asbestos should refer to the pdf icon Asbestos in Homes leaflet [92kb].

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring fibrous mineral. It is fire-resistant, stronger than steel, resilient and insoluble. These properties make it very useful to us, particularly as fire protection and insulation in buildings.

Why is asbestos harmful?

Asbestos fibres are very narrow and are therefore easily breathed in. They do not dissolve and will remain in the lung for a very long time, perhaps indefinitely. They become easily lodged in the lungs, and our immune systems are unable to break them down. Inhaling asbestos fibres can lead to asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

When is asbestos dangerous?

Asbestos is not dangerous unless fibres are released into the air. Thus any asbestos present in buildings will pose no harm if the material in which the fibres are embedded is in good condition, and can be left in place if it is unlikely to be disturbed. Any activity that causes fibres to be released will cause problems, for example cutting, using machinery, removal of asbestos, drilling or sawing, repair or replacement of ceiling tiles or unintentional damage.

Why is asbestos still a problem?

Asbestos was used extensively as a building material in Great Britain from 1950 to the mid 1980s, and continued to be used until 1999. Although some asbestos has been removed, it is likely that many thousands of tonnes are still present within buildings. It is estimated that over half a million non-domestic premises currently have some form of asbestos in them.

What do I do if I find asbestos?

If it has been fly tipped or dumped, please report it to the Environmental Enforcement Wardens, with details of the exact location of all asbestos material. If it has been dumped on private ground, it is likely to be the responsibility of the landowner to remove it.

What should I do if I suspect asbestos in my home?

Don't panic. Asbestos is only dangerous when disturbed. If it is safely managed and contained it doesn't present a health hazard. Homeowners should contact a private asbestos contractor who will sample and analyse the material for the presence of asbestos. After analysis they should provide advice on the best course of action. Council tenants should contact your nearest housing office or your housing officer.

I have some roofing sheets from an old garage/shed which I think it may contain asbestos. How do I know if it is asbestos?

If you are unsure if the material contains asbestos, contact Environmental Health. An officer from Environment Health will call and help with identification. However, the costs of sampling and identification are the responsibility of the person who owns the house. The HSE Web site contains some advice for homeowners. Homeowners can find details of accredited asbestos inspection contractors from UKAS Accredited Asbestos Inspection Contractors.

Can I cut materials suspected to contain asbestos into smaller pieces?

No. Under no circumstances should you cut, saw or break up what you think may be asbestos sheeting. This can release asbestos fibres which are known to cause long term health problems if inhaled.

Who else should be informed if asbestos needs to be disposed of?

Environmental Health will not liaise with HSE or SEPA on behalf of residents, as direct communication with the organisations concerned is available. Environmental Health will liaise with other agencies on appropriate inter authority matters.