Diseases through asbestos-related causes lead to more deaths in the UK every year than those killed in road accidents. The figures are growing in number too, predicted to peak next year.
The chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, Dame Helena Shovelton has warned that this issue could become greater still, unless homeowners are not made more aware about the dangers in their house.
Asbestos began life as a miracle material, naturally occurring, inexpensive and massively heat resistant. As such, it was used widely in construction and industry throughout the 20th century. It could (and still can) be found in ceilings, wall cavities, tiles, cement, windows and pipes of all manner of buildings from schools to homes to factories.
Only after a long period of use were there any connections to exposure of asbestos fibres to a variety of nasty lung diseases. Perhaps the most aggressive of these is the chest cancer mesothelioma. The difficulties in finding the link lay in the fact that asbestos fibres lay hidden and dormant in the lungs for anywhere between 20 and 50 years after first exposure.
Diagnoses of these kinds of asbestos-related diseases are most common among those who worked directly with asbestos during the height of its use in the 1960s and 1970s. Back then, any identified dangers about the material were very much under valued. In fact, it wasn’t until 1999 that asbestos in all its forms were banned in the UK.
The problem now facing the UK public at large is to do with perceptions – notably, the idea that asbestos is a hazard of the past and that we are somehow now free of its shackles. This lack of awareness poses many prominent risks to homeowners and the wider public, especially those undertaking DIY etc.
A survey by the BLF recently highlighted that 67% couldn’t confidently identify asbestos in their home. A quarter did not know that asbestos was not fully banned until the 1990s, and this suggests that peoples´ attitudes on asbestos have changed in a short amount of time. This imparting of knowledge is what is crucial, particularly in the domestic setting. If people do identify asbestos, then it is crucial that they do not hastily try and remove it themselves. In many cases, it is better off leaving it alone. Getting professional inspectors in to assess the property is the best advice for any homeowner who has questions or concerns about asbestos.
Despite the apparent publicity ‘dimming’, asbestos still makes it onto the news today. There are a great number of local news reports about schools needing repairs and for asbestos to be removed safely.
One such school in Uttoxeter, Thomas Alleyne High School left swathes of parents in fear for their childrens´ health after letters were sent out warning of exposure in a particular changing room. The letter read: “The wall in the toilet area of the PE block changing room was accidentally damaged. This damage may have caused disturbance of an asbestos fibre or fibres.”
On the 27th March, the Essex Chronicle stated that Government funds of more than £300 million are being received by schools in Essex for repairs and improvements. Of these, 4 of the schools, Great Baddow High School, Chelmsford, Moulsham High School, Chelmsford, Moulsham Infant School, Chelmsford, and Hedingham School and Sixth Form, Braintree need asbestos removal – mostly from the roofs.
Similarly, the Caerphilly Observer told how 11 schools are in the middle of a two year asbestos removal project. These types of stories can be found up and down the country, proving that asbestos is still hugely prevalent in older buildings, of which schools make up a large segment.
With the government being put under a lot of pressure from a variety of groups, changes are being made, highlighted by school repair funds. A government compensation scheme has also recently been implemented, whereby those with asbestos work-related cancers being awarded £25 million from a compensation fund. Known as the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme, this helps those affected who can no longer seek compensation, due to their employers or insurers no longer being traceable.
Also featuring on recent news networks are reports on illegal asbestos dumping in sites across Bedford such as Stevington, Hinwick and Wymington. This is, however, undoubtedly a nationwide issue.
A spokesperson for Bedford council said: “We are concerned there are unofficial asbestos collectors operating in the borough who are taking this hazardous material from households and not disposing of it correctly.
“Asbestos and other hazardous waste needs specialist disposal so must be treated differently from normal waste, as particular rules apply to its transportation and disposal.”
Councils can arrange asbestos clearance and they gladly ask residents to get in touch if they want asbestos removed from their properties.
These are just a tiny sample of some of the most recent stories regarding asbestos and how it continues to blight our society. However, with the right amount of coverage, hopefully a wider public will acknowledge and be aware of the dangers lurking in our buildings still today. What these stories highlight is the need for vigilance and the need to seek removal experts, so everyone remains safe.