Asbestos of all types is classified as a class 1 carcinogen. This means there is enough evidence to say that the substance causes cancer in humans.

Asbestos is only dangerous when the fibres are inhaled. If asbestos is kept trapped within a material such as cement, it presents no risk. The risk only exists when the asbestos containing material (ACM) is broken and fibres released.

Some ACMs (such as Asbestos Insulating Board or asbestos lagging) contain a higher proportion of fibrous material and therefore will release more fibres when broken.

Disturbing and removing asbestos creates the highest risk of fibre release. The law places controls on any person carrying out work that is likely to result in fibres being released above a certain limit.

These controls take the form of a licensing or permissioning regime administered and regulated by the Health and Safety Executive.

The three main types of asbestos found in asbestos containing materials (ACMs) in the UK are:

  • Amosite (brown)

  • Crocidolite (blue) and

  • Chrysotile (white).

Chrysotile or white asbestos presents less risk than the other types. Its use in building materials was banned in 1999.

Now all types of asbestos are linked to cancer and all are classed as class 1 carcinogens.

Asbestos may be found in buildings constructed up to the late 1990s. It was a popular building material until surprisingly recently. It is strong, light, fire retardant and hard-wearing when it is combined with other base materials.

It can be found in a surprising variety of applications in buildings – from wall panels and ceiling tiles to pipe lagging and fibre cement roofing and cladding.