Reports of asbestos found in everyday household objects or consumer products are a reminder that as recently as the 1980s, the mineral fibre was a common source of insulation used in many different domestic applications, not just at the workplace. The raising of asbestos awareness is not unnecessary scaremongering.

There can still be millions of homes containing one or more of the 300 plus insulation products manufactured in Britain up to the late 1970s and early 80s. In one recently reported case of illegal flytipping, two old fridges containing sheets of asbestos were dumped alongside other building materials in a Wales car park. The extent of how much asbestos still lies undiscovered in properties across Britain is underlined by a recent Freedom of Information request which revealed that flytipping of asbestos had increased by around 14 per cent in the last 3 years to more than 3,220 incidents in just 2017 alone.

Enquiries regularly received at WESolicitors often refer to a likely historical occupational exposure or the unexpected discovery of textured asbestos ceilings, or corrugated garage roofing during renovations. But there is also a concern that family members may have been innocently at risk from asbestosis diseases, decades earlier, in older homes containing asbestos hidden in items such as, boiler enclosures, clothes dryers, fuse-boxes, heaters and toasters.

Found almost anywhere in a typical UK domestic household

From the post WW2 period, through the 1950s until the first asbestos ban in the mid 1980s, asbestos insulation was being used in almost every aspect of British life. More than 1.3 million tonnes of asbestos had been imported into the UK during the 1950s, which peaked at 1.6 million tonnes in the 1960s and continued around 1.5 million in the 1970s. Until the final import ban on white asbestos in 1999, more than five million tons had been used in British industry as a key insulation and fireproofing product and could be found almost anywhere in a typical UK domestic household.

However, the most common use of asbestos in all types of residential properties was the insulation and fireproofing of electrical installations and products. 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. Asbestos also used as an insulator 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 hair dryers.

Both gas and electric appliances known to contain asbestos containing materials

As recently as 2010, The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published “Asbestos Risk From Domestic Gas Appliances” compiled from various industry sources of both gas and electric appliances known to contain asbestos containing materials (ACMs), the majority of which were manufactured before 1985. The list contains hundreds of model numbers from dozens of manufacturers at the time, including well-known brands such as, AET, Belling & Co, Creda, Dimplex, Electrolux, Heatstore, Revo, Tyrad, Westayr, Enviwarm, Multitherm, AGCHT, Baxi, Caradon Ideal, Crane Ltd, Glowworm, Johnson & Starley, Speedair and Thorn Heating. It also warns about component parts replaced after this date, which may also contain asbestos materials.

The document specifically details asbestos that may still be found in existing gas, solid fuel, electrical or oil installations, including, insulating board, compartment insulation, gland packings, gaskets and seals, paper linings, asbestos cement sheeting and flue pipes, refractory blocks, and ducting in warm air systems. As well as gas appliances known to contain asbestos, specific electric appliances were storage radiators and warm air heaters.

Health danger to plumbing and heating engineers

The historical, and ongoing health danger to plumbing and heating engineers, is another factor that is all too often heard in court. HSE has reported that over a ten year minimum period, plumbers, heating & ventilating engineers recorded the third highest proportional mortality ratios. A recent HSE survey commission also found that of the estimated 1.3 million people who today are occupationally exposed to asbestos containing materials in the UK, it is plumbers and heating engineers who still come into contact with asbestos more frequently than nearly all other tradesman – an average of 140 times per year, or nearly three times a week.

The legacy of Britain’s historical asbestos use is, of course most, most tragically demonstrated by the 2,540 victims who now die every year from mesothelioma, the fatal incurable cancer of the lung linings. Hundreds of others continue to suffer from other asbestos-related conditions.