If you work within the construction industry, then asbestos, along with its dangers, is likely to be something that you are more than aware of. However, for others outside of the field, the history behind asbestos can be somewhat vague, and many are not fully aware of the extent of the risks associated with asbestos. Particularly if you are a property owner, understanding whether your building has been built with asbestos, as well as how to treat the premises to minimise risks, is of utmost importance.
With this in mind, as specialists in asbestos roof coatings and having dealt with related projects for many years, we have put together a full guide on the topic. Reading this should mean that you will feel confident in answering the question ‘are asbestos roof sheets dangerous’ and understand how to resolve any issues that you may encounter in the future.
Are Asbestos Roof Sheets Dangerous? A Comprehensive Guide To Asbestos Roofing
For those who own a property, whether this may be commercial or domestic, that was built before the 2000s, it may be likely that it contains asbestos. Although the use of any type of asbestos in construction was banned in the UK in 1999, this most definitely doesn’t mean that it was removed from those who were already built with the material. This means that there are thousands of buildings across the nation that still have asbestos roof sheets, making maintaining the condition of them imperative. Failing to do so puts everyone exposed to asbestos at enormous risk – we will delve deeper into the dangers later in our article. So, to ensure that you are well-versed in tackling asbestos roof systems, we have separated our guide into several sections, answering the following questions:
- What Is Asbestos?
- What Are The Dangers Of Asbestos?
- How Can You Stop Asbestos Roofing From Causing A Risk?
When tackling any form of danger, it is vital to understand what you are dealing with so firstly, let’s take a closer look at what asbestos actually is.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring product which is made up of six fibrous minerals; all of which have a very thin fibre-like texture. These six minerals are:
- Chrysotile – This is the most commonly used type of asbestos, which was regularly used on roof sheets, ceilings, walls and floors. Chrysotile asbestos is always white in colour.
- Crocidolite – Frequently used to provide insulation on steam trains, crocidolite asbestos is blue. As well as to insulate, crocidolite was often used in some coatings.
- Amosite – Brown asbestos, otherwise known as amosite, is usually seen in insulating products such as those used on pipes, ceiling tiles and cement sheets.
- Anthophyllite – As one of the less common types of asbestos, anthophyllite can be white, grey or green. It was only used in small quantities during construction projects.
- Tremolite & Actinolite – The last two types of asbestos are tremolite and actinolite; these were never used commercially for construction projects. They are the most similar minerals and can be more than one colour, including white, green, grey and brown.
Each type of asbestos has many qualities such as heat resistance, strength and the ability to insulate, which at first, made people believe that it would make for a fantastic building material. In fact, it is thought that the use of asbestos could date back as far as 4500 years ago for simple tasks such as making everyday utensils and ceramic pots stronger. However, it was not until the 1800s, during the industrial revolution, that the use of asbestos begun to skyrocket, being used in all manner of construction. By the 1920s, a vast 20,000 tonnes of asbestos was being imported to the UK every year, which continued to increase to up to 170,000 tonnes while at its peak from the 50s to the 70s.
Although in the first stages of the use of asbestos, people saw the mineral as a revolutionary new building resource, it wasn’t before long that the real dangers started to uncover. Those exposed to asbestos were becoming very ill with many losing their lives to diseases related to their exposure. This lead to crocidolite and amosite being banned in 1985, then the full ban of all types of asbestos being approved in 1999.
As mentioned above, it did not take long before those exposed to asbestos started to experience severe illness, an issue which is still stealing the lives away from individuals today. According to statistics published on the Asbestos.com website, as many as 900,000 people across the globe pass away every year from diseases associated with asbestos. Moreover, although the use of asbestos has been banned, it is still possible for up to 125 million individuals to be at risk of exposure due to their working environment. The main health risks which are caused by asbestos are the following:
The first case of asbestosis was recorded in the British Medical Journal back in 1924, just before the height of the use of asbestos. However, unfortunately, it was not until the 1930s that rules started to be implemented to control the use of asbestos down to evidence providing its dangers. This meant that for almost a decade, individuals continued to be exposed to the product unbeknown that they were putting themselves at risk of asbestosis.
Asbestosis is a chronic, long-term lung condition which is caused by being exposed to asbestos for a prolonged period of time; therefore, inhaling the fibres. Once inhaled, the fibres can stay inside the lungs and cause them to scar which, in turn, begins to shrink and harden the lungs. Much like other illnesses caused by exposure to harmful toxins, it can take up to 30 years for the condition to develop. This means that many construction workers who worked on building sites that used asbestos decades ago are only now beginning to show symptoms of the illness. These symptoms can range from a persistent cough, and shortness of breath to swollen fingertips – a full list can be found on the NHS website.
Diagnosing asbestosis often includes a chest x-ray which will confirm where there is any scarring on the lungs, and then options will be given to make living with the condition more manageable. Although asbestosis has been present for many years, there is no cure because the damage cannot be reversed. Instead, sessions can be scheduled, which helps to lessen the severity of the symptoms. More information on possible treatment can be found on The Lung Association website.
Another incredibly cruel condition caused by asbestos is mesothelioma, which is a malignant tumour that can grow on the lungs, abdomen or heart. Not only can mesothelioma be a result of asbestos fibres being inhaled, but it is also possible for fibres to become airborne, causing them to enter through the mouth before being swallowed. Again, the fibres will lodge themselves in the lungs, abdomen or heart, damaging the mesothelial cells and eventually forming tumours. The British Lung Association website features a diagram explaining this further.
The symptoms of mesothelioma of the lungs are incredibly similar to those of asbestosis, including those mentioned previously, along with a fever, loss of appetite and chest pain. Mesothelioma of the stomach, on the other hand, can cause pains, swelling and sickness. Unfortunately, the successfulness of treatments is predominantly based on how early the tumour is discovered. Options commonly include chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.
Pleural thickening is a disease that causes, just as the name suggests, the thickening of the pleura, which is the lining of the lungs. The most common cause of pleural thickening is exposure to asbestos because as mentioned previously, the mineral fibres scar the lungs, which means that tissue begins to build up. However, in rarer cases, pleural thickening can be as a result of other forms of lung diseases such as chronic pneumonia and tuberculosis.
Much like other exposure-related illnesses, it can take up to 20 years for pleural thickening to develop, and when it has, the symptoms will also be an impact on the lungs. It can become trickier to take deep breaths, and individuals are likely to find that they become breathless very easily. However, unlike asbestosis and mesothelioma, swollen fingertips are not a symptom of pleural thickening.
To determine whether someone has pleural thickening, several different types of scans can be used such as x-rays, CT scans and MRI scans; all of which will be able to diagnose the disease. Once diagnosed, pleural thickening is not considered life-threatening but cannot be reversed, which means that treatments will be based on ways to improve the way of life. Pulmonary rehabilitation is the most popular treatment, which involves a combination of breathing and exercise techniques, along with a diet and nutrition plan.
As asbestos was widely used in construction until the late 1990s, if you own an older commercial property, it may have been built using asbestos. While understanding the dangers of asbestos exposure is imperative, it is vitally important to highlight that although you may have asbestos roofing, you can prevent it from causing any health risks.
For those who do have asbestos roof sheets, by now that will be more than 20 years old, meaning that they are likely to begin deteriorating. The moment that you start to notice a change in your roofing system, whether this may be, for instance, cracking or flaking, it is crucial to enlist the professionals. Failing to contact experts to assess the condition of the roofing risks asbestos fibres being released; therefore, increasing the likelihood that they will be inhaled. With this in mind, having specialised in roofing services for many decades, GOCO Services can offer several solutions to prevent the dangers of asbestos systems:
- Asbestos Roof Repairs – Opting for asbestos roof repairs is an affordable, yet effective way to stop fibres from becoming airborne. It eliminates the time, money and disruption associated with a full roof replacement, allowing systems to be recoated with a reliable, long-lasting solution. This will be completed in line with the latest health and safety regulations regarding asbestos, allowing your property to remain safe for years to come.
- Overcladding – If you want to upgrade the appearance of your roofing system while treating asbestos but do not have the budget for replacement, then you could consider overcladding. Overcladding involves an additional roof sheet or layer of cladding being installed on top of your existing roofing system. Along with treating asbestos, overcladding is also a fantastic way to improve the thermal efficiency of your building.
- Roof Replacement – For those who wanted to remove their asbestos roof altogether and replace with a new system, this is also possible. However, it will take considerably more planning to ensure that the asbestos is safely disposed and does not cause any harm to anyone along the way. An inspection will also need to be arranged to guarantee that your property is free from asbestos. You will then be able to choose a new flat roofing system, and once installed, can book in for regular felt flat roof maintenance.
Stay Protected Against Asbestos Exposure
The answer to the question ‘are asbestos roof sheets dangerous’ is yet asbestos can be incredibly harmful, but the roofing systems can be protected with regular maintenance. In ensuring that you keep a careful eye on any changes in your roofing system, you can promptly contact professionals to resolve the issue. If you have any further questions with regards to asbestos roofing, then please do not hesitate to contact our team, who would be more than happy to help.