What is asbestos and why is it dangerous?

Read on to discover how to spot asbestos, why it’s dangerous and how to get rid of asbestos safely.

Updated

Safety equipment needed to identify and remove asbestos: goggles, gloves and safety mask

Key steps

  • Get a professional to take samples and check for asbestos if your home was built before 1980.
  • It can be found in tiles, shingles and insulation.
  • Avoid disturbing asbestos.
  • Instead of repairing it, remove and replace asbestos as a long-term solution.
  • Inhaling asbestos can lead to lung disease or cancer.
 

Asbestos is a material made up of microscopic fibres which can be damaging to lungs when they are breathed in. Before these health risks were known, many older buildings were constructed using asbestos. All new homeowners should have this checked and removed by a professional if necessary.

So what does asbestos look like, and where do you find it? Read on for how to identify asbestos, and why it’s so dangerous.

Do not try to remove asbestos yourself, as you could inhale disturbed fibres. Instead call in a professional who has the right equipment and clothing to remove and dispose of it safely.

What is asbestos? How to spot asbestos and where to find it

  • Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral.
  • What does asbestos look like? It’s often hidden from view in the home, but in its pure form it is light in colour and fibrous. The fibres are soft and flexible, and can be pulled to a fluffy consistency.
  • Despite being highly toxic, it is a useful mineral due to its resistance to heat, electricity and corrosion.
  • Asbestos was traditionally used as building insulation, as well as an ingredient in cloth, paper, cement plastic and more to add strength.
  • Asbestos can be found in a variety of places in homes built prior to 1980. This includes:
    • Floor tiles
    • Ceiling tiles
    • Roof shingles
    • Insulation around boilers, piles and more
    • Attic insulation
  • To identify asbestos in your home, it is best to hire a professional who can take samples of items around your home for testing. This will ensure minimal exposure if there is any asbestos present. Do not try to remove it yourself, even if you know how to identify asbestos.

How to dispose of asbestos: Tips to getting rid of asbestos safely

If you’re wondering how to get rid of asbestos, play close attention to these serious dos and don’ts.

  • DON’T disturb the asbestos. If the material is in good condition, it may not be dangerous; but disturbing it could break up the fibres.
  • DO contact a professional, who will know how to get rid of asbestos safely and fully – with the right equipment and safety gear.
  • DON’T try and remove it yourself. Any exposure to asbestos can be seriously harmful to your health, and this risk will be increased if you disturb the fibres.
  • DO make sure that a professional confirms that the asbestos is completely removed. Any asbestos presence in the home can be a serious health risk.

Why is asbestos dangerous? 3 ways asbestos can be harmful to you and your family

Once it’s inhaled, exposure to asbestos cannot be treated. The asbestos fibres you may breathe in cannot be seen, smelled or tasted – but over time, they can cause serious harm. Here are 3 health issues caused by exposure to asbestos:

  1. Asbestosis: This is a respiratory disease, which although it is non-cancerous will aggravate lung tissue, cause shortness of breath and a crackling sound when you breathe in. In later stages it can lead to heart attacks. It cannot be treated effectively and is more often than not fatal.
  2. Lung cancer: This is the biggest cause of asbestos exposure related deaths. Common symptoms include coughing, anaemia, chest pain and shortness of breath. You have an increased risk to this if you are also a smoker.
  3. Mesotheliom: This is rarer. It is a cancer which occurs in the membrane lining of your lungs, chest, abdomen and occasionally heart.
 

With advice on how to spot asbestos, and how to dispose of asbestos safely, you can avoid the adverse health effects it can cause. If you’re a new homeowner, or have just moved to a new pad, check out our advice for cleaning your new home and getting yourself settled in.

Originally published