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Asbestos – What is it?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral which grows in veins within mesomorphic rock. There are six asbestos types, split into two categories. The commercially used types of asbestos are Chrysotile (white), Amosite (brown) and Crocidolite (blue). Often asbestos fibres are referred to by colour, although this is not visually identifiable. Asbestos was used for its versatility; mechanical properties and chemical, heat and electrical resistance. Asbestos is highly chemically inert; therefore it was frequently used for the externals of buildings such as roof tiles, roof ridges, rainwater products and external panels. The chemical inertness of asbestos makes it frequently found within production plants which use acids.


Asbestos is a condition which is typified by a shortness of breath. Known in Ancient Greece as a "sickness of the lungs", it is caused by fibres reaching the alveoli. The subsequent scarring results in reduced lung capacity and an increase in the likelihood of lung cancer. Although not always fatal, the condition can be extremely debilitating.


Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of lung cancer caused solely from exposure to asbestos fibres. Cancerous cells form in the membrane covering internal organs, causing the lung cancer to quickly spread across the body. This cancerous growth inhibits normal lung tissue function. Symptoms include a shortness of breath, coughing and chest pains. This condition is fatal and the period from diagnosis to death is typically 6 – 24 months.
Other diseases from asbestos exposure are lung cancer, pleural plaques, cancer of the larynx, penile and ovarian cancers, asbestos warts and pleural thickening.

Uses of asbestos

Asbestos was used both as an additive and as a primary material in a number of building applications. Typical material uses were:

  • Asbestos insulation board for ceiling tiles, partitions, soffits, transoms etc. They can be up to 85% asbestos and semi compressed which enables easy fibre release. Only to removed/worked on by a licensed asbestos removal contractor.
  • Asbestos cements, used as roof sheets, flue pipes, guttering, roof tiles etc. Usually 10-15% white asbestos, although if pre-1955 likely to be blue asbestos. Non-licensed materials can be removed by non-licensed contractors.
  • Lagging on pipes and calorifiers. Typically around 15% asbestos and only to removed/worked on by licensed asbestos contractors.
  • Asbestos reinforced composites used as floor tiles, stair nosings, sink pads, toilets seats and cisterns. The bitumen adhesives on floor finishes can contain asbestos. These are typically low risk materials.
  • Asbestos rope and cloth. Fire blankets, gaskets, cable insulation and flash guards can contain asbestos woven textiles. Fibre release depends on the material type. Typically woven Chrysotile (white) asbestos fibres.
  • Sprayed coatings, up to 85% asbestos mixed with an adhesive and sprayed on to structural steel columns, beams and purlins. Sprayed coatings are a licensed material, and have a high fibre release if disturbed.

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"In the final stages of acquiring our property, we had to get an asbestos management survey - the timeline was tight and the turnaround time for both carrying out the survey and delivering the report. We contacted Maple Surveys, who gave us a very competitive quote - which included all samples and sample analysis - and promised they could meet our deadlines. Upon commissioning Maple Surveys a surveyor was on site within 2 days, was professional and explained everything clearly. The report was delivered the next working day as promised, and Maple Surveys saved us a significant sum of money from the findings of the survey. I would definitely use Maple Surveys again, and would highly recommend them to anyone. An excellent, professional and friendly service all round."
Sarah Brighton, Homebuyer.
"Maple Surveys were recommended to me by the owner of a neighbouring business after they had completed an asbestos survey for him. I contacted Scott Senior who replied promptly to my enquiry and sent a quote for surveying the commercial property which I lease. The quote was very competitive compared to others I had received, the survey was done speedily & efficiently at a time."
Lesley Connors - 20/20 Eyecare Opticians, Harpenden
"Professional prompt service with good attention to detail and very customer focused."
Nazy Sargood - ProjektPlus (Property Developers)

"Maple Surveys Ltd were onsite within 24hours of our initial phone call and within 48hours of surveying the property they had issued us with a comprehensive and detailed reported which included laboratory tested results of bulk samples taken from site. Incredibly quick service undertaken in a very professional manner - I would not hesitate in appointing them again and will definitely recommend their services to my colleagues."
Barry Mc Brien - Project Architect (Cousins & Cousins Architects)

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