Even suspected asbestos should be treated with caution

The National Association for Clean Air (NSCA) has published a new leaflet providing advice on how to reduce the risks from asbestos in the work place and at home.

According to the NSCA, 4,500 people in the UK die from asbestos exposure every year, a figure which could rise to 10,000 by 2020. “It’s due to the long incubation time for asbestos-related diseases,” Mary Stevens, Project Manager at NSCA, and author of the leaflet, told edie. Diseases such as asbestiosis – scarring of lung tissue – and mesothelioma – cancer affecting the membranes of the chest and abdomen – can take as much as 40 years to develop, according to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which is campaigning to raise awareness of the dangers of the material.

The NSCA’s leaflet warns that asbestos can be found in a wide variety of places in buildings, such as in roof and wall claddings, pipe lagging, gutters and downpipes, vinyl floor tiles, storage heaters and textured paints. Asbestos is particularly difficult to identify, warns Stevens, but anything which is suspected as being asbestos should be treated as such, and should not be drilled into, sawed, or scrubbed. Small amounts of asbestos can be dampened, placed in a sealed plastic bag and labelled, whereas larger, undamaged asbestos items should be left alone. “If it’s left undisturbed, it shouldn’t cause a problem,” said Stevens. Indoors, asbestos can be sealed with an alkali-resistant paint, such as PVA emulsion.

Contractors brought in to deal with asbestos should be licensed under the Asbestos Licensing Regulations Act 1983, with work being carried out in air-tight conditions, and operators should wear protective clothing and masks. Expert advice on how to deal with any particular situation can be obtained from the local authority’s environmental health department.

Other guidance includes advice on gutters and corrugated roofs made of asbestos, which should not be swept with wire brushes in order to clear them of moss and other vegetation, and the leaflet also warns that silted gutter traps can also contain a high percentage of asbestos fibres.

The NSCA’s leaflet also outlines how the law relates to asbestos, including the 1987 Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations, requiring employers to prevent the exposure of their employees to asbestos, or, where this is not reasonably practicable, to reduce it to the lowest possible level. The regulations are due to be revised in 2002, requiring employers to identify the location and condition of asbestos on their premises, and to draw up a plan to manage risks.

The new asbestos leaflet is available from the NSCA for £7 for 100 from sales@nsca.org.uk. Single copies are free.

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