Asbestos in boiler insulation
Up until the 1970s, most heat resistant and insulating materials were made up of asbestos. The Asbestos Regulations 1969 aimed to control the levels of exposure to asbestos in factories, warehouses, and power stations. Awareness of the dangers of asbestos spread to schools, local establishments, and homes, with some needing to evacuate due to the presence of asbestos. Fast forward to 2006 and the Control of Asbestos Regulations came into force in Britain. These regulations prevent the importation and use of white asbestos, and blue and brown asbestos. The distribution of second-hand asbestos products has also been banned. In this article, we will look at what asbestos is, the dangers related to it, where to find it, and how it’s removed.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos was once called the “miracle mineral” due to its heat and fire-resistant properties. Asbestos is made up of tiny durable fibres, which were commonly used in insulation, building materials and fireproof gear. These tiny microscopic fibres are unavoidable once they come airborne, and can cause a variety of severe health problems down the line.
Symptoms of asbestos exposure
Exposure to asbestos can result in the development of asbestosis, where symptoms can include lung cancer, stomach cancer or an asbestos-associated form of cancer called mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is the formation of small tumours around the heart, lungs or abdomen caused by the small fibres from asbestos. The symptoms can include chest pains, shortness of breath and increased liquid around your lungs. The symptoms of mesothelioma can be difficult to treat since they are undiscoverable until they are in an advanced stage. Recovery rates are slim for most patients, and their symptoms tend to get worse over time. It can be difficult and complicated to diagnose mesothelioma, which makes it even more difficult to treat with less invasive methods.
Irritation caused by the microscopic fibres will eventually lead to scarring in the lungs and worsening health issues. Due to the nature of asbestosis, it can take up to 10 to 20 years after the initial exposure to asbestos for symptoms to begin to show. While some people may not show symptoms till later, some people may be left with severe health issues due to a reduced ability to breathe. Unfortunately, there still isn’t any treatment available for asbestosis, so those that are affected will have to live with the symptoms.
Where can you find asbestos?
Asbestos can still be found in the form of boiler insulation in homes nationwide. Asbestos was often used in insulation for boiler pipes to reduce energy costs and prevent fires. Asbestos insulation looks like corrugated cardboard and was wrapped around boiler pipes. The likelihood that you will encounter asbestos is quite small but if the insulation becomes damaged in any way, the tiny fibres can cause serious damage to your internal organs.
In older forms, asbestos boiler insulation could be found around a boiler’s stove, pipes, and doors. Typically, you’d find at least a 1-inch layer of asbestos concrete around a boiler. Boiler rooms in industrial sites, homes, schools, and military sites were frequently exposed to asbestos contamination. Despite the mixture of other chemicals to glue the tiny fibres to the insulation, you’d still have problems with the fibres being released into the room and contaminating the air and surfaces.
Due to the nature of asbestos’s small fibres, it’s important to steer clear of any damaged boiler insulation, which is why a professional is needed to deal with removal. Exposure to asbestos through removal is highly dangerous and can release thousands of small fibres into the air. Even if a professional tears off small chunks of insulation in a controlled way, you’d still have high amounts of asbestos released into the air.
Professionals will wear safety gear during the process to prevent exposure. Before work commences, they will put on special respiratory equipment and full length disposable overalls. In addition to protective gear, they will use adhesives and decontamination units to prevent the spread of the asbestos fibres. After the process of removal is complete, they will double bag the sheets of asbestos and dispose of it in a licensed landfill site.
Please be aware that any boiler engineer will be unable to continue with a boiler installation if asbestos is discovered during the installation process. In the rare occasion that we do find asbestos, we will advise you on who you can contact for a professional removal before being able to continue with your new boiler installation.
What should I do if I’ve been exposed to asbestos?
If you’ve been exposed to asbestos, it’s important to assess to what extent you have been exposed. If you have only been exposed briefly and at very low levels, your risk of developing the disease is quite small. However, if you were exposed to asbestos at high levels and over extended periods of time, you may be at a higher risk of developing heart or lung cancer.
If you’d like to reduce the risk of asbestosis further down the line, you can help protect your health in several ways:*
- If you are a smoker, it would be in your best interest to stop smoking. You can significantly reduce the risk of developing lung cancer if you cut out smoking.
- You can talk to your doctor about whether you should receive regular check-ups for any asbestos-related illnesses, especially if you have been exposed to asbestos in the last five years (or sooner rather than later). Doctors will then recommend that you receive regular chest X-rays and CT scans to check your lung and heart function.
- If you start to experience any of the following symptoms, consult your doctor and act on it immediately: Shortness of breath, a new or worsening cough, coughing up blood, pain or tightness in the chest, trouble swallowing, or unintended weight loss. See your doctor promptly for any respiratory illness.
- Ask your doctor about getting vaccines against flu and pneumonia.
The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and does not constitute medical or other professional advice.