Nearly 1000 homes around England and Wales have been severely affected by the recent torrential rain and the unprecedented flooding caused by rivers bursting their banks.

Following the UK’s wettest summer in a century, November was the wettest month on record with an average of 217mm of rain across the country, according to the Met Office.

Unfortunately, there could be more bad news on the way for householders dealing with the aftermath as the waters subside. Inspecting flood damage to the interior structure of their properties can often reveal asbestos containing materials (ACMs), which have been hidden from view for up to half a century or more.

For most of the twentieth century, asbestos fibres were commonly used in the manufacture of thousands of building products as an inexpensive source of insulation / fire proofing, and installed in millions of properties round the UK.

Lack of asbestos awareness or simply ignoring the growing evidence to the long term health risks meant that it was only in 1985 that the most toxic forms of brown and blue asbestos were banned from use. However, white asbestos continued to be used in house building materials, such as wall boards, flooring and ceilings, cement construction, sprayed wall coatings and loft insulation, pipe lagging, roofing, jointing compounds and general infill, etc

Although use of white asbestos was eventually banned from import in 1999, it is generally considered that no property build or renovated up until the 1980s and 90s is likely to be free of some form of asbestos material.

Once disturbed, asbestos fibre dust particles become airborne and can also travel through water.

Inhaling the fibres can cause severe inflammation of the lung linings leading to asbestosis disease or the fatal and incurable mesothelioma cancer.

However, asbestosis symptoms will only make themselves known after a long gestation period of up to 50 years or more, by which time the disease may have reached an advanced stage. Life expectancy from a confirmed mesothelioma diagnosis is usually between 4 to 18 months.

Home owners or tenants who have suffered flood damaged homes and who strongly suspect the presence of asbestos should contact the local authorities to arrange a thorough survey. If asbestos is found then only an authorised and licensed asbestos removal may remove any asbestos-containing materials from the debris. Under no circumstances should homeowners or tenants attempt to clear the potential hazardous waste themselves.

According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), more than 1.8 million people are annually exposed to asbestos with at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed every year.