Asbestos – The Hidden Danger

Watch an auction programme on the television, and you will see eager buyers, willing to snap up properties in poor condition, sometimes without surveys or even internal viewing. Sometimes, it will be the first home, for purchasers looking for a bargain, just to get their feet on the property ladder. Sometimes, it will be experienced landlords, looking to increase their portfolios and having either skills themselves or a good team of tradespeople who will know what is required and what to look for.


But what of the third category who may be there? The people who are concerned about their future pension rights, who feel now is the time to safe-guard their old age, by becoming landlords. These people can often become very good landlords, but before they get to that stage, it will be necessary to bring the property up to the level demanded by the Housing Health and Safety Rating Standard.

They may employ tradespeople to do the work for them, or they may be confident that they can do what they see as merely cosmetic work themselves; such as installing a new kitchen and bathroom, fitting new side lights, etc. In fact, it was the skills these would-be landlords felt they had that persuaded them they could make a killing with a low priced property in need of renovation.

However, they are people unlikely to know a great deal about asbestos. The property is fairly new, only built in 1995, so surely unlikely to have any asbestos? Wrong. Any property built before the year 2000 could have asbestos within the structure and it is estimated that almost half of properties in the UK contain asbestos in one form or another.

This is a natural hazard and is a set of six silicate minerals: Chrysotile, Amosite, Crocidolite, Tremolite, Anthophyllite and Actinolite. Each has long, thin, fibrous crystals and it is these fibres which cause life-threatening diseases by detaching during upheaval. If these are inhaled, they cause scarring to the lungs and thickening of the lung lining (the Pleura). The diseases have a long period when they appear dormant, but become active many years later.

The diseases which Asbestos causes are: mesothelioma, which is always fatal; lung cancer, nearly always fatal and asbestosis, which does not always lead to death but can be so debilitating that there is no quality of life. About 5,000 people a year die as a direct result of contact with asbestos and 20 workers die each week because of exposure to asbestos in their past working lives.

For over 4,000 years, asbestos has been widely used in the home. In East Finland, it was used to strengthen pottery; it was used by the Egyptians and Persians to wrap their dead. By the end of the 19th century, it was used for fire resistant coatings, concrete, bricks, pipes, heat, fire and acid resistant gaskets, pipe insulation, ceiling insulation, flooring, roofing and lawn furniture, amongst many other uses. It is therefore easy to see how likely it would be to come into contact with this most dangerous material. 

Be aware of the risks; if any renovations are to be undertaken, wear a specialist safety mask and if in any doubt about anything that is found, take expert advice.  Asbestos is a slow but sure killer; get a safety mask – £20 is a small price to pay to feel safe for the future.

For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon

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