What actually is asbestos?

The subject of asbestos has been open to rumour, conjecture and hearsay for generations. With so many horror stories appearing on television and in newspapers, it can be difficult to penetrate the urban myth and discover the facts about this hazardous substance.

So, what is asbestos, after all?

The term refers to a set of six naturally occurring silicate materials that all share a similar structure of long, thin crystals. Asbestos fibres are invisible to the human eye, but are potentially fatal when inhaled after disturbance.

The substance has been mined for thousands of years, with various generations creating different uses for it, typically within the construction trade.

The Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians all experimented with asbestos in some form, extolling its virtues as a phenomenal insulator. Later, asbestos use soared in Britain during the Industrial Revolution, with a surge in machinery and steam power necessitating controls on heat generation.

In subsequent eras, asbestos was mixed into thousands of different products, from cements and insulating boards to textured coating sprays and beyond. The relative cheapness of asbestos, coupled with its many desirable qualities, made it extremely popular. The substance has a phenomenal tensile strength and is resistant to electricity. For many decades, people hailed it as a ‘wonder substance,’ until knowledge of its toxicity became widespread.

When disturbed, asbestos becomes extremely dangerous. Inhalation of airborne fibres can cause many different diseases, while a long latency period can affect people up to 60 years after exposure.

Asbestos is a carcinogen and is strongly linked to two types of cancer: mesothelioma, a fatal disease of the lung lining, and asbestos-related lung cancer.

Asbestosis, a scarring of the lungs, is also attributable to asbestos. So is diffuse pleural thickening, where membranes within the lungs and chest wall expand.

The battle to outlaw asbestos was long and winding. The first documented death relating to the substance occurred in 1906, but regulations to limit exposure were not enacted until decades later. A final United Kingdom ban on the supply and use of asbestos came in 1999.

Nevertheless, estimates suggest that nearly 2 million properties across the land may still contain asbestos. The material could be present in any building built or refurbished prior to the final ban, so effective identification and asbestos management remain a pivotal priority.

That’s where North Star Environmental plays an indispensable role in the fight for a safer world. Using over a century of combined industry experience, our staff provides expert advice and elite services.

From asbestos surveys and air monitoring to accredited laboratory testing and management consultation, plus much more, we pride ourselves on delivering a personalised yet professional service.

We push the boundaries of innovation in compliance with all domestic legislation and the highest international standards, acting as a crucial linchpin in the quest for environmental harmony.

To learn more about asbestos, or to arrange a no-obligation quote for comprehensive services from an industry powerhouse, contact our dedicated team today.