The issue of asbestos awareness may not always be at the top of a couple’s list of the many items that should be checked before moving into a new home. But professional property organisations regularly warn that any property built up to 2000 could contain asbestos materials.

The ever-present dangers of asbestos, which often goes undetected in a private house or council flat for years have led one couple to the brink of financial disaster, which left them wearing just “the clothes they were standing in”.

Insurance company would not pay for the cost of removal

Dangerously high levels of asbestos were revealed during the electrical rewiring of a house the couple first purchased together after six years of saving. When disturbed, asbestos fibre dust can be released into the air and inhaled. Over a period of time ( usually 15 to 50 years), asbestosis disease can develop and the tissue cells can turn cancerous, forming incurable malignant mesothelioma tumours.

When the asbestos was discovered, the house was sealed, which left the couple and their four-month-old daughter forced to sleep on family and friend’s sofas. But there was more devastating news. Despite possessing home and contents insurance and the electrician’s public liability insurance, their insurance company would not pay for the cost of removing the asbestos.

Asbestos in a huge variety of everyday, household products

Up until November 1999 when white asbestos was banned in the UK, more than five million tons had been used in British industry as a key insulation and fireproofing product. During its heyday in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, between 135,000 and 183,000 tons of brown, blue and white asbestos was imported into the UK every year. Not only was the mineral used in the factories and engineering works of heavy industry and construction, the low-cost fibres could be found almost anywhere in a typical UK household.

Asbestos was used as strengtheners and insulators in a huge variety of everyday, household and domestic items, such as PVC, nylon and corrugated paper, oven mats and gloves, ironing board covers curtains, wallpaper, potting mixtures, popcorn and even baby-powder.

It’s not too surprising that as an insulation and fireproofing material, one of the most common uses of asbestos was in electrical products and installation systems. Asbestos would line the standard household fuse box, electrical boxes behind wall switches and plugs as well as in recessed lighting, within ceiling fixtures and freestanding lamp sockets.

Quantities of asbestos lining were also commonplace in most types of heating appliances, such as ovens, dishwashers, toasters, clothes dryers and electric blankets as well as protecting the heating coils in heaters, irons and even hair dryers.

Asbestos materials behind partitioning, ceiling voids and underneath the floor

While it is highly likely that old fuse boxes would have been replaced with modern “wiring centres” and new electrical cabling installed, there could still be asbestos materials behind partitioning, ceiling voids and underneath the floor. It is known that builders would still use any stock holding of asbestos insulation for up to ten years at least after the first ban was introduced in 1985. The presence of asbestos somewhere in a premises built or renovated up until the end of the 20th C should never be entirely discounted.

In an older domestic property, around thirty per cent of asbestos could be present in the form of textured and sprayed ceiling coatings and wall cladding. A further ten to fifteen per cent may be found in other forms of insulation used to manufacture cement panel ceilings, lagging around boiler flue pipes and ducts, cold water storage tanks, corrugated cement roofing panels and roofing felt, roof eaves, soffits, gutters, and rainwater pipes.

Survey to identify asbestos should always be on a homebuyers list before moving in

Carrying out a property survey to specifically identify asbestos should always be on a homebuyers list before moving in. Identifying possible asbestos materials by an initial visual inspection before any refurbishment is begun can be a significant precaution. However, another key issue is knowing how to distinguish between modern asbestos-free materials and an asbestos–containing material, which look almost identical. It is always strongly recommended that an authorised and licensed asbestos specialist be contacted via the local authority whenever asbestos is suspected of being present.

The distraught couple, who have set up an online crowdfunding page in a bid to help pay for the bill to remove the asbestos, say that “There must be thousands of tradesmen and companies up and down the UK who work with asbestos day in and day out, and with insurance companies who will swerve the indemnity if asbestos is involved”. It is crucial to always double check the house insurance policy ti verify the exact position if asbestos is found and needs to be removed.