Asbestos — cancer and lung disease hazard

Mined in countries such as Russia, Canada, Brazil and South Africa and widely used for insulation purposes in walls, ceilings, roofs and other structural areas of buildings for decades before its carcinogenic properties were recognised, asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring minerals with heat, corrosion and electricity resistant fibres. Its use was so widespread that ACMs (Asbestos Containing Materials) are likely to be present in many UK commercial and residential properties built before 2000.

Exposure to asbestos and inhalation of its microscopic fibres causes scarring of the lungs or asbestosis as well as many types of cancer, including laryngeal, lung and ovarian cancer, but primarily mesothelioma, which forms in the lining of the lungs or the abdomen.

Asbestos and mesothelioma

In the post-war recovery years, manufacturing industries across the UK embraced the heat and fire-resistant properties of asbestos, regarded as a miracle insulation material and widely used not only in construction, but also everything from appliances and machinery to cars and ships.

Tragically, it wasn’t until 1960 that the link between asbestos and mesothelioma was established, as patterns of disease amongst those who had worked with the material came to light. As cases of the disease escalated, it soon became evident that even minimal levels of exposure to asbestos could carry significant risks. Accordingly, new laws were passed to provide protection from asbestos exposure, with the material finally being banned in the UK in 1999.

The effects of mesothelioma are still felt today, with about 2,700 cases reported each year, according to Cancer Research UK statistics. Challenging to treat, survival rates of mesothelioma remain low.


Asbestos — leave it or remove it?

Undisturbed, ACMs can lie hidden and dormant. However, if damaged or disrupted — for example by building works or alterations — the material releases its carcinogenic microscopic fibres into the atmosphere, where they can easily be breathed in. The type of asbestos used also has a bearing whether it needs to be removed, so if you are unsure whether occupants of a building are at risk, the best solution is to have an asbestos survey.

For obvious reasons, such surveys can be hazardous procedures, which is why they must be carried out by properly licensed professionals who have the necessary expertise and the equipment to remove and dispose of it safely. Strict regulations regarding the removal of asbestos have been put in place by the Health and Safety Executive — failure to follow these specifications carries the risk of prosecution under Health and Safety legislation.

Reducing the risks — asbestos and mesothelioma prevention

Despite improving awareness of the health risks posed by asbestos in recent years, some employers continue to put their staff at risk of dangerous exposure in the workplace. It is incumbent on employers to ensure that workers take suitable precautions against asbestos — and on staff to report unsafe working conditions to their Local Authority or the Health and Safety Executive .

The simple and self-evident rule is never to carry out asbestos work unless you are properly trained and certified to do so. For those tasked with its removal, it is essential to wear the appropriate PPE at all times to minimise the risk of inhalation or ingestion. In short, the removal of asbestos is strictly a job for properly qualified professionals.

Raising awareness of mesothelioma

Important national asbestos disease prevention campaigns include the fundraising work of Mesothelioma UK, as well as projects led by ActionMeso and the Royal British Legion. Led by the UK Mesothelioma Alliance, #ActionMeso is a collaborative campaign supported by patient groups and charities to raise awareness of the disease, driving efforts to identify and safely remove asbestos from our environment to help put an end to a disease that, whilst incurable, is preventable.

A key part of this initiative is the national “Go Blue for Meso” campaign, designed to drive awareness of mesothelioma and other cancers caused by asbestos. Organisers of the campaign are encouraging people to get involved by lighting up their homes in blue to mark Action Mesothelioma Day on 7 July 2023, as well as lobbying to light up local landmarks around the country in blue. For further information about this important campaign to raise awareness of a disease that merits far more attention than it gets, visit Go Blue for Meso.

Asbestos and You

Decontaminate would like to express our support for the recently launched Health and Safety Executive (HSE) campaign called ‘Asbestos and You’, focusing on managing risks associated with asbestos and targeting all tradespeople.

Asbestos exposure in Great Britain is still the single greatest cause of work-related deaths. We are committed to protecting people in the workplace and reducing future work-related ill health — a message from the HSE.

Everyone working in construction today must take the risk from asbestos seriously, recognise the dangers and take the right actions to protect themselves and others from being exposed to asbestos fibres.
David Harrison, Decontaminate Associate Director

Concerned about asbestos?

If you have concerns about the potential presence of asbestos in your building, get in touch with Decontaminate. As fully qualified and certified specialists in this field, Decontaminate offer comprehensive asbestos survey and removal services that are fully compliant with best practice and all current legislation.