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What is asbestos?

Before starting a claim following asbestos exposure, you may still have a few unanswered questions – whether they’re about what asbestos is to how much compensation you may be awarded, our frequently asked questions are answered here

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What is asbestos?

What is it, where was it used and why is it dangerous?

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 tradespeople die each week as a result of previous exposure to 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.
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. 
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.
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 claims can be complex. At Leigh Day, our experienced team of asbestos solicitors will care for you whilst fighting to obtain compensation to avoid you suffering financial hardship, on top of everything else you and your family are going through. 
We have offices in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Chesterfield and Birmingham to deal with asbestosis claims across the country – including the ability to visit you at home or in hospital if required.
We have been consistently rated in the top tier by the independent legal directories The Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners for our reputation as specialists with significant experience in this field.  
For more than 30 years, our firm has specialised in the more complex areas of personal injury law, focusing our efforts on achieving justice for our clients.