Because of the life-threatening risks associated with high levels of asbestos exposure, the government in the UK often recommends that if asbestos is detected in the ceiling insulation or the paint, that it is best to leave it undisturbed.
Asbestos fibres are very small by comparison to a human hair for example. When the fibres are disturbed, they quickly become airborne and this is when the battle becomes deadly serious. This is why the government recommends that, as long as the asbestos is located in a place where it will lie undisturbed, it should be left exactly where it is.
Asbestos removal is a dangerous undertaking. Inhaling asbestos fibres can cause serious medical conditions, including lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.
When removing asbestos, it is essential to follow the proper asbestos removal protocol to minimise the risk of exposure to the toxic fibres.
Asbestos removal considerations
- When it is decided that asbestos does need to be removed from a building, a company that offers asbestos removal services should always be used rather than personally trying to attempt the hazardous procedure. Although it is legal for property owners to personally remove the material, strict adherence to the Government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines must be followed.
- High concentrations of asbestos exposure often result in diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. All of the diseases associated with asbestos damage are highly serious with some being fatal. When asbestos is inhaled into the lungs, it tends to become trapped there, resulting in a natural immune response that then results in the release of carcinogens (cancer-causing elements) into the bloodstream over a period of 10 to 40 years. It is possible for the asbestos fibres to remain in the body permanently, as the body is unable to dissolve them naturally.
- The standard practices that are followed by asbestos removal contractors begin with the total sealing off of the area where the asbestos has been located. This is to prevent the escape of any contaminated air. Contractors working for the asbestos removal companies are required by law to wear high grade breathing apparatuses to guard against the accidental inhalation of the fibres and particles. Following the successful removal of contaminated material, contractors have to be decontaminated before they are permitted to leave the area.
- Decontamination includes removal and disposal of the worker’s exposed clothes and work gear, while exposed skin should be thoroughly washed. Asbestos is best removed by first applying moisture so that particles become too heavy to become airborne.
- The removal process itself involves spraying the asbestos thoroughly with water. Once the asbestos is saturated, a pry bar and knife are used to remove the asbestos. As it is removed, it is packed in asbestos removal bags. The bags are double seal bags—the bag should be sealed as the asbestos is being packed, and then it should be sealed a second time. It is essential to keep the asbestos wet throughout the process. Common disposal methods include burying the material as a hazardous waste material in landfills, but the safest and most secure way to dispose of asbestos is through thermal decomposition. Thermal decomposition is a process in which the asbestos is heated to more than 1000 degrees Celsius, at which point it becomes a harmless silicate. If the material is heated further, the silicate then becomes a silicate glass which can be used to make nonhazardous materials like floor tiles and bricks.