Workers and homeowners can be exposed to asbestos during renovations and construction work.

The use of asbestos has been common in the industrialized world since the mid-19th century until it was banned in most countries.That does not mean, however, that the asbestos problem has gone away.

If you live in the UK, your home has a 50% chance of harboring asbestos, which could be lethal if disturbed.

In the United States, health agencies warn of asbestos in homes and commercial buildings. According to the Asbestos News website, estimates are that asbestos containing materials remain in most of the nation’s approximately 107,000 primary and secondary schools and 733,000 public and commercial buildings.

While this may sound alarming, asbestos is likely to be dangerous only if it is released into the air and you breathe it in. Then you could be at long-term risk of developing lung cancer, asbestosis or mesothelioma (a cancer that forms in the lining of the chest or abdomen). Experts say that there should be little or no risk if the asbestos is enclosed and left undisturbed but it must be regularly checked for signs of deterioration.

But accidents happen and the previously dormant devil within could be released when “improvement” work is being carried out, for example, or when a burst pipe causes damage to ceilings.

In older UK homes, asbestos is often present in ceilings decorated using Artex textured coating. This is because, until the mid-1980s, Artex was made with white asbestos to strengthen it. However, Joe Oakins, a surveyor at Vintec Environmental Management, says: “We find asbestos products used in the strangest places and sometimes apparently for no reason. Often builders used whatever they had lying around, so you often find off-cuts of asbestos boards used as packing and filler.”

Asbestos is also often present in pipe wrap and vinyl flooring tiles, in roofing and flooring felt and roof coatings, according to EPA.

Peter Coling, technical director at Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward Chartered Surveyors, estimates that 30% of asbestos is found in ceiling coatings, 15% in boiler flue pipes and ducts, and 15% in floor tiles. A further 15% is found in areas such as cold water storage tanks, insulation materials, eaves, gutters and rainwater pipes, while 10% is in cement panel ceilings, 10% in outbuildings and 5% in fire protection materials, for example on the underside of integral garage roofs and in cupboards enclosing boilers.

Source: The Observer

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