Asbestos is a naturally occurring material that is fibrous, heat-resistant, and non-flammable. Because of such properties asbestos was widely used as a component in many building materials until the 1980s after it became apparent that is it actually very dangerous to human health. Common examples of asbestos use in residential buildings include; fibre cement roofing, cladding, guttering, and downpipes, vinyl floor tiles, ceiling, sprayed coatings on walls and ceilings, and insulating materials for boilers and pipes. While asbestos is now a well-known health and safety hazard, it is still mined and used in countries such as Russia, China, and Brazil. The use of asbestos is now illegal in most of the western world, including the UK since 1999. The current UK legislation relating to asbestos is THE CONTROL OF ASBESTOS REGULATIONS (2012). The term ‘asbestos’ actually refers to set of six different silicate minerals including; Chrysotile (white asbestos), Amosite (brown asbestos), Crocidolite (blue asbestos), Anthophyllite, Tremolite, and Actinolite. 95% of the asbestos found in buildings is Chrysotile. All types of asbestos are composed of fibrous crystals, and when materials made of asbestos are disturbed they can release a fine dust that contains asbestos fibres. If breathed in asbestos fibres enter and stay in the lungs, and with long-term exposure can lead serious lung conditions such as; Asbestosis (inflammation and scarring of the lungs), and various forms of cancer including Mesothelioma. The WHO estimates that over 100,000 people die each year globally from exposure to asbestos. Even though the use of asbestos has been banned in the UK since 1999, it remains the single greatest cause of work-related deaths. According to the HSE, there are around 5000 deaths resulting of asbestos related diseases each year. This is mostly among men over the age of 60 who were exposed to asbestos decades earlier. This is partly because the effects of exposure to asbestos can be manifested many years after exposure, and because asbestos still remains in many buildings built during the 20th century, and there remains a risk of exposure whenever deposits of asbestos are disturbed during demolition and refurbishment projects. A HSE publication called MANAGING ASBESTOS IN BUILDINGS (2012) provides guidance for anyone who is responsible for maintenance and repairs in a building which may contain asbestos, including how to obtain asbestos surveys and arrange for removal of asbestos. Please note that work with asbestos (either repair or removal) should only be carried out by licensed contractors.

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