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What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring minerals made up of microscopic fibres. It has been mined for hundreds of years and was used in many industries throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s because of its strong insulation and fireproof properties.
 
Asbestos was used extensively in construction, shipbuilding and manufacturing – before the dangers of breathing in such fibres were discovered. It was popular due to its fireproof qualities, as a non-flammable and virtually indestructible material that meant the fibres could be mixed with cement or woven into fabric and mats. 
 
These qualities and ease of use led to it being dubbed the “magic mineral” at the time. However, it was also extremely dangerous as when materials containing asbestos are damaged or disturbed their fibres are released into the air. When these fibres are breathed in or swallowed they can cause serious asbestos related diseases, including plural thickening and mesothelioma.
 
The Health and Safety Executive estimates that asbestos diseases are responsible for about 5,000 deaths a year. They suggest that about 20 tradesmen die each week as a result of previous exposure to asbestos.

Dangers of asbestos

In the UK, a building constructed or refurbished before 2000 may still contain asbestos. It was officially made a banned substance in 1999, but was most commonly used in the 1950s onwards – which  means many buildings today can still contain asbestos. It causes harm when it is disturbed and the dust is inhaled. 
 
After exposure, asbestos related diseases can take a long time to develop. The time between exposure to asbestos and development of a disease is at least 10 years (typically between 30 and 40 years), but there is no upper limit.
 
It is not just people who worked directly with asbestos that can be affected. Families may also have been exposed to asbestos second hand, as the fibres could be brought home on the clothes and belongings of their loved ones and breathed in. 

Types of asbestos

There are three main types of asbestos, but they are all dangerous and cause diseases. These include:

White asbestos

White asbestos is the most common type of asbestos. Its heat resistant properties resulted in it being widely used in the construction industry to insulate pipes and in the automotive industry during the assembly of vehicles. White asbestos can still be found today in the walls, ceilings and floors of homes and workplaces. 

Brown asbestos

Brown asbestos was mainly used in cement sheets and pipe insulation. It can commonly be found in ceiling tiles and thermal insulation products. This type of asbestos has an extremely high cancer risk.

Blue asbestos

Blue asbestos was a popular choice on the railways and was used to insulate steam engines. It was also used for pipe insulation, in plastics and certain cements thanks to its ultra-thin fibres. When breathed in, these can get lodged in the lungs and lead to many types of asbestos related illnesses. 

Where was asbestos used?

Asbestos was used in many different industries. There are certain areas of the UK where its use was more prevalent than others. These mainly included big industrial cities and the surrounding region.
 
We have specialists experience supporting people with asbestos related illnesses in the following industrial areas:
 
 
These areas had high volumes of factories, manufacturing plants and construction sites. This increased the likelihood that the workers in dockyards, engineering and automotive factories would be exposed to asbestos during their working years. 
 
Asbestos was used in many different materials handled by workers in the construction, engineering and manufacturing industries. Some of the uses include: 
 
  • Lagging for insulating pipework and boilers
  • Rope, string and paper
  • Sprayed asbestos in buildings, ships and locomotive engines (Limpet)
  • Building and partition fireproof sheets
  • Corrugated roof sheets
  • Ceiling and floor tiles
  • Fire doors
  • Gloves and aprons
  • Fireproof suits and blankets
  • Artex
  • Gaskets
  • Ironing boards
  • Bunsen burner mats

Asbestos related diseases

Exposure to brown, blue or white asbestos can lead to a number of potentially fatal diseases. These can take many years to develop and as they mainly affect the lungs, many have similar symptoms. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), all types of asbestos can cause the following asbestos related diseases
 
  • Mesothelioma – a cancer that develops on the thin tissue around many important organs.
  • Asbestosis – long-term inflammation and some scaring of the lungs as a result of breathing in asbestos fibres.
  • Pleural thickening – a painful lung disease where extensive scarring thickens the lining of the lungs.
  • Lung cancer – a cancer caused by breathing in large amounts of asbestos fibres. 

How to claim for asbestos compensation

Leigh Day can help you start an asbestos claim, if you or a loved one think you were exposed to asbestos at work and it has resulted in a related disease. One of our specialist solicitors will listen to your case, offer their advice on whether you have a claim and the best next steps to progress your claim. 
 
Find out how to claim for asbestos compensation by visiting our asbestos and mesothelioma claims page. To learn more about asbestos claims, you can also visit our FAQs page. Here we have answered all of your most common questions around how to make a claim and working out whether you will be eligible. 

Ready to talk? For direct asbestos advice from our expert team, call 0800 6895854 or

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