Speculation continues to this day as to whether French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte died in 1821 as a result of arsenic poisoning from green pigments used as colouring in the wallpaper covering the bathroom and drawing room walls at Longwood House, St Helena, the place of his last exile.

Equally lethal, but probably less well known is the dangers present in 20th century vinyl wallpaper!

Asbestos was commonly used in the construction industry and in home building materials because, in addition to being extremely cheap, flexible and strong, asbestos was naturally heat and fire resistant. Vinyl wallpaper is often favoured for everyday use because it is more durable than other wallpaper types, especially in the kitchen and bathroom because it stays intact even when wet. Moreover, it is also easy for the DIY homeowner to hang without professional help.

But vinyl wallpapers used in homes built before 1980 may contain asbestos, once again, as a result of either lack of, or indifference to, asbestos awareness.

Fortunately, it is extremely difficult for asbestos fibres to escape into the air if the wallpaper is still in good condition and may be considered as not presenting a life threatening risk. However, removing , cutting , or making repairs around the wallpaper may release the fibres into the air. If inhaled or ingested, the fibres become lodged in organs and cavities, causing inflammation or infection – and finally, developing into full blown asbestosis or mesothelioma.

Caused almost exclusively by asbestos exposure, mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer, with no known cure and a long period of dormancy can elapse before the first asbestosis symptoms appear.

It is therefore, critical to treat any pre-1980s wallpaper discovered in the home as though it contains asbestos. If you must remove the wallpaper, seek asbestos advice first and hire a professional with experience handling asbestos-containing vinyl wallpaper as the safest precaution.

Vinyl wallpapers manufactured today are safe, free of asbestos and do not cause asbestos-related diseases.