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The world's most deadly industrial toxin

Asbestos The worlds' most deadly industrial toxin and leading cause of workplace deaths in the UK.

Vital Facts on Asbestos:

  • Asbestos is a Category 1 human carcinogen (main known cause of Mesothelioma)
  • There are no safe levels of exposure to asbestos
  • Asbestos exposure kills 1 person every 5 minutes around the world
  • 40 people die in the UK every week (half of which are typically tradesmen)
  • Asbestos exists in 1000s of products used worldwide
  • Asbestos use has only been banned by half of the world's countries
  • Densely-populated, developing countries like: India, China, Russia & South America still actively use it
  • Only banned in the UK in 1999, any building constructed prior will most likely contain asbestos related products

Why was Asbestos used so prolifically? Thanks to its desirable natural properties such as: heat resistance, sound absorption and protection against corrosion, asbestos has been used as an insulator and many other applications worldwide for decades across over sixty different industry sectors.

The fibrous nature of asbestos made it very commercially desirable as it allows asbestos to be mixed with cement or woven with other materials to produce 1000s of different products.


Examples of products that could have contained Asbestos: Asbestos can be difficult to identify because its fibrous form is generally woven with other materials and because of the extent of its use before being banned in 1999, asbestos can be found in some form in most buildings including: schools, hospitals, houses, offices, warehouses etc built before 2000.

Ceiling & Floor Tiles

Insulation for Pipes & Boilers

Sprayed Textured Coatings on Ceilings & Walls
(like Artex)

Corrugated Roofing Sheets

Asbestos Cement Pipes

AIB Panels in Doors, Windows & Ceilings
(AIB = Asbestos Insulated Board)

Fire Blankets & Doors


Brake Pads & Clutch Discs

*Asbestos would not be used to construct any of these items today in the UK but they might still exist in buildings constructed prior to the ban and are still being used in Developing Countries.

Where Asbestos could be found in a typical Home (built before 2000)


Industry Sectors most likely to be effected by Asbestos

(Building, Plumbing, Electrical, Joinery, Carpentry, Surveying, Architects)

Ship building / Docklands
(Widely used to insulate ships)

(Used in many automotive components)

(during the building and overhauling of warships)

(Commonly used in old school buildings)

(Commonly used in old hospitals)

Fire & Rescue
(Inhalation of fibres in building & fire retardant product broken down & released by fire)

(Disturbance of Asbestos when demolishing old buildings)

Nuclear Power Stations
(used widely as an insulator)

Relatives of All of the Above
(Inhalation of asbestos fibres carried in the clothing of partners exposed to asbestos)

Why is Asbestos dangerous? Dubbed "The Hidden Killer" by the British Health and Safety Executive (HSE), asbestos is a Category 1 human carcinogen and is considered to be one of the world's most deadly industrial toxins.

When undisturbed and in good condition, asbestos is not life threatening. It is the inhalation of airborne asbestos fibres caused when asbestos is disturbed or deteriorating that is most dangerous and can lead to serious illnesses, all of which can be fatal, such as:

Asbestos - Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a cancer which affects the lining of the lungs (pleura) and the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract (peritoneum). It is almost exclusively related to asbestos exposure and by the time it is diagnosed, it is almost always fatal.

Asbestos-related lung cancer

Asbestos-related lung cancer
Asbestos-related lung cancer is the same as (looks the same as) lung cancer caused by smoking and other causes. It is estimated that there is around one lung cancer for every mesothelioma death.


Asbestosis (a type of pneumoconiosis) is a serious scarring condition of the lung that normally occurs after heavy exposure to asbestos over many years. This condition can cause progressive shortness of breath, and in severe cases can be fatal.

Pleural thickening

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.

Unfortunately these diseases do not affect you immediately; in fact they often take a long time to develop, but once diagnosed, it is often too late to do anything.

Whilst it is prolonged exposure to high concentrations of airborne asbestos fibres that is most likely to cause health problems, it is generally accepted that there are no safe levels of asbestos exposure.

For those working in the building and demolition industry and other industries likely to come into contact with and disturb asbestos, the dangers of exposure and inhalation of asbestos fibres cannot be taken seriously enough.

Frightening Asbestos Statistics

UK (Asbestos banned in 1999)

  • Over 4000 asbestos related deaths per year
  • According to the HSE, the UK has one of the highest levels of asbestos pollution in the world
  • Currently over 40 people die each week due to asbestos exposure
    • 20 are building tradesmen typically (8 joiners; 6 electricians; 4 plumbers and 2 from other trades)
    • Worryingly a similar number of non-building trades such as contractor's family members, teachers, surveyors and architects are also dying from mesothelioma where the exposure is less obvious

      Source: UK HSE website 2011

EU (Asbestos banned in 2005)

  • Over 25,000 deaths per year
  • 500,000+ will die up to the year 2030

Worldwide (Asbestos banned in only ½ the world's countries)

  • 100,000 deaths per year are predicted for the next 20 years (2 million)
  • 125 million people worldwide are exposed to white asbestos in the workplace

    Estimates from: International Labour Organisation & World Health Organisation

Over 2,000,000 people could die as a result of exposure to asbestos by the year 2030, possibly more as the total extent of the problem has yet to be fully realised.

Guidance for Working with Asbestos For the most up to date information and guidance on best practice when working with asbestos please visit the HSE website and read more about their Asbestos Awareness Campaign - The Hidden Killer:

Asbestos - HSE advert

The Future & Asbestos The global legacy of asbestos is massive. It is a problem that cannot be solved quickly or easily and is likely it to claim potentially millions of lives worldwide in the process.

  • Only ½ the world has currently banned the use of asbestos
  • Canada, Russia and China still export asbestos related products
  • Asbestos products are still actively used in densely-populated, developing countries such as: India, China, Russia; Kazakhstan; Columbia; Brazil and Mexico
Asbestos is a global problem

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