How a tenant or a resident could be affected by having asbestos in their property and how landlords can deal with asbestos safely

Asbestos is a mineral fibre that was used in many building materials, including insulation. It was used because of its fireproofing properties, resistance to heat and its sound absorption qualities. It was also used as a covering for wires, as a cloth for sandblasting, and as a cement additive.

Asbestos was commonly used in building construction from the 1950s until its ban in the 1980s, but it may also be present in homes built or refurbished pre-2000. To protect tenants, landlords must know how to find out if asbestos is present and how to safely handle it when it is found in your rental property.

Unfortunately, you could be living with asbestos and not even know it. We will cover how tenants or residents could be affected by asbestos in a rental property, where asbestos can be found, identifying it and how landlords can safely deal with the issue including the asbestos removal process.

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The health effects of asbestos

Asbestos is known to be one of the most dangerous minerals because of its highly toxic properties. The naturally occurring silicate mineral fibres are not dangerous until they are damaged or disturbed. When they are released into the air the fibres are inhaled which is when they can cause serious diseases.

These diseases will not affect you immediately; they can often take many years to develop, but once diagnosed, it is often too late to do anything. This is why it is important that you protect yourself NOW and are proactive in the search for asbestos in your residence. Asbestos can cause the following fatal and serious diseases:

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Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops on the lung’s outer lining, or pleura, and the lining around the lower digestive tract, known as the peritoneum. Mesothelioma tends to remain near its origin. It is almost solely related to exposure to asbestos and by the time it is diagnosed, it is unfortunately almost always fatal.

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Asbestos-related lung cancer

Asbestos-related lung cancer develops inside the lung space, the same as lung cancer caused by smoking and other causes. Lung cancer spreads or metastasizes early to other organs. It is estimated that there is around one lung cancer for every mesothelioma death. The effect of asbestos exposure and smoking increases the risk of lung cancer by more than 50 times.

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Asbestosis is a serious scarring condition of the lung that normally occurs after heavy exposure to asbestos over many years. Asbestosis is not curable and there are currently no medications that will slow down pulmonary fibrosis once it has developed. This condition can cause progressive shortness of breath, and in severe cases can be fatal.

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Pleural thickening

Pleural thickening is generally a problem that happens after heavy asbestos exposure. The lining of the lung (pleura) thickens and swells. If this gets worse, the lung itself can be squeezed, and can cause shortness of breath and discomfort in the chest. It may be a symptom of a more severe diagnosis such as malignant pleural mesothelioma.

Where is asbestos found?

If you live in an older property, it is recommended that you be proactive in identifying all possible asbestos-containing materials around your home. In the past, asbestos was so commonly used so it can be found anywhere in older properties that have not been refurbished for over 20 years. But generally, in can be found in:

  • Insulation panels used as fire-proofing material in partition walls, behind fuse boxes, above ceilings, soffits under the roof and in airing cupboards
  • Artex textured ceiling coatings
  • Loft lagging insulation and pipe insulation in airing cupboards
  • Cement panels generally found on garage roofs, sheds and outbuildings

Note that some older domestic appliances may contain asbestos. Items such as fire blankets, ironing board pads, cookers and oven gloves may contain asbestos. If you are planning to dispose of something you think contains asbestos, please contact the landlord or local authority first for advice.

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Identifying asbestos

If you suspect asbestos, make sure you know who is responsible for managing the issue. It is usually the landlord or whoever is responsible for general repairs. They will need to arrange to have a professional asbestos survey carried out by a suitably qualified expert. There are two types of asbestos survey:

  • Management Asbestos Survey
  • Refurbishment and Demolition Asbestos Survey

Management surveys involve a visual inspection of the property to determine if asbestos is present. They are not usually necessary for domestic premises but may be required in common areas including corridors and hallways in blocks of flats or HMOs.

The survey will locate and monitor any asbestos or asbestos-containing materials. If the asbestos is deteriorating in any way, it will be recommended if it requires removal, maintenance or repair.

Refurbishment and demolition surveys are recommended for major refurbishments of older buildings where there may be asbestos present. It’s also recommended for properties with older concrete panelled garages. These are more extensive surveys and samples will be taken to test for the presence of asbestos.

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Asbestos removal

The plan for dealing with asbestos will depend on its current condition. It is the responsibility of the landlord to carry out a risk assessment and take the necessary steps. Possible survey outcomes will include:

Asbestos in good condition can be left alone with no legal obligation to act, but it will need to be monitored at regular intervals, and encapsulated if it shows any evidence of even minor damage.
Asbestos in poor condition or in an area that could be disturbed must be removed ASAP.

Removal is a job for a specialist contractor that must be hired to do the removal work and dispose of the material safely. Landlords and tenants should not attempt the work themselves. Specialist contractors will ensure both landlords and tenants will not be put at risk by the damaging escaping fibres.

Book your 30-minute complimentary property consultation with Blue Crystal to discuss any aspect of property rental including asbestos in a rental property and more.

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