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How to Identify Asbestos Cement: Where and What to Look For

An example of corrugated asbestos roofing sheets on a factory roof, which are make from asbestos cement.

An example of corrugated asbestos roofing sheets on a factory roof, which are make from asbestos cement.

What is asbestos cement?

Asbestos cement is normal cement which has been mixed with chrysotile asbestos (usually around 10-15%). Asbestos was added to the cement to reinforce it. This made the material tough, durable and cheap to produce. In addition, adding asbestos to the cement mixture made it fire retardant and stopped water from passing through which made it an extremely useful material.

Sadly, however, asbestos would later be found to be extremely damaging to human health and would become linked with some cancers and lung diseases including metholisioma.

Where might I find asbestos cement?

Asbestos cement was an extremely popular product used to build a plethora of different types of building materials and it can therefore be found in many different areas of a buildings construction including homes, industrial units, ships, offices and road surfacing. Asbestos cement products were used in homes, commercial premises and agricultural buildings.

Put simply, asbestos has the potential to be found anywhere where a building was constructed prior to 1999.

Examples of asbestos cement products include:

  • Asbestos cement roofs – such as corregated asbestos sheeting used in sheds, garages, warehouses and barns
  • Asbestos wall cladding – used in many different types of buildings including boiler houses
  • Door panels – asbestos was used to prevent fire spreading due to its insulating properties
  • External and internal garages – in both roofs and walls
  • Asbestos downpipes and gutters – many homes built before the 1970s utilised waste water systems made from asbestos
  • Water tanks – especially common in homes and used until the 1980s
  • Warm air heating systems
  • Asbestos cement flues – common in boiler systems, warm-air heating systems and boiler houses
  • Flashgaurds – asbestos material used to insulate fuses in electric fuse boxes
  • Farm Buildings - asbestos is still an extremely common material found in farm buildings and can be observed on thousands of farms across the UK
  • Boiler houses

Is asbestos cement safe to leave alone?

Yes. Undisturbed asbestos cement products are generally safe. However, you should seek professional advice if the product appears to be degrading or breaking up.

An example of asbestos cement waste water pipe.

An example of asbestos cement waste water pipe.

Can I remove asbestos cement myself?

Under controlled conditions it may be safe for you to remove asbestos cement products yourself, however, due to the nature of asbestos this hub will not go into details of how to remove it. Please visit the Health & Safety Executive website for further advice or consult a local asbestos removal company.

Can I break asbestos cement into smaller sections or drill holes in it?

No. Breaking asbestos cement causes asbestos fibres to be released into the atmosphere, which can put people at risk of inhaling potentially lethal asbestos fibres. Under no circumstances should you break or dill asbestos cement unless under controlled conditions.

Can I reuse old asbestos cement products?

There is a comprehensive prohibition on the reuse of asbestos cement on anything other than the same premises where it was originally installed.

Asbestos cement may not be reused on new buildings. If reused to repair pre-existing buildings (buildings that were original built with asbestos cement) this should only take place if it is possible to do so without breaching the duty to prevent the exposure of employees to asbestos so far as is reasonably practicable. This means that any cutting, drilling or breaking of asbestos cement is prohibited.

In short, we highly recommend that do not attempt to reuse asbestos containing materials and doing so may mean that you’re breaking the law.

Another example of asbestos corrugated roof sheets, made from asbestos cement.

Another example of asbestos corrugated roof sheets, made from asbestos cement.

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