Is this asbestos?

10 Oct 2012
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United Kingdom
Hi, can anyone tell from these pics whether this is or isn't asbestos?

The reason I'm worried that it may be asbestos is that the house is ex-council, built in the 1950s, so is exactly the sort of property that may contain asbestos.

In the living room, there is a hole in the chimney breast where a gas fire has been ripped out by the previous owner. The hole is crudely covered with a flap of wallpaper. The stuff I'm worried about looks like grey cement and it's a bit crumbly. Not fibrous as such, but it could be asbestos cement?

A more hopeful sign is that the space is mostly covered by a metal plate, which bears a few stickers saying things like "Sayes & Co Ltd... This gas appliance was installed by [initials], date: 3-7-01"

I find this more comforting, as surely a professional gas installing company in 2001 would have removed any asbestos and this is hopefully some kind of asbestos-free fire-resistant cement? What still worries me is that if they had actually found asbestos there, they may have considered that it was safer to leave it in situ than remove it, then simply added the metal plate on which to mount the gas fire?

Apologies if I'm being a clueless n00b here, I'm seeking peace of mind more than anything. If I'm right to be concerned about this material, can anyone advise on who I could approach for impartial advice about what to do next?

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No, no one can tell you from photographs whether or not it is asbestos but you should assume that it is.

Most of the properties in this country contain asbestos unless built from 2000 on so your property is not unusual, the fact that it s ex council has nothing at all to do with the problem. Asbestos was/is a fantastic construction material so it was pretty much used everywhere.

As I said you should assume that it's an ACM and there is no reason whatsoever to assume that a gas installer would remove it during the course of their duties; in fact they would not be licensed to do this work and would have been in breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations. Had it been previously tested then it would probably have had an asbestos sticker attached. If there is already a small piece broken off then it does no harm whatsoever to damp it down before popping it into a sealed plastic bag. Find a local asbestos analytical company and ask them to pop it under the microscope. When I've arranged to do this I have the results within 10 minutes of calling at the lab usually. I am P402 certified to do this work so only consider this if its already broken off. Should cost about £20 to have it analysed. If its a positive result you might need a density test to specifically identify the product but if its just chrysotile then it's almost sure to be asbestos cement, a non licensed product. This would be very cheap to have removed whereas a licensed product has far greater control measures and hence more cost. Say between £50 to £200 for removal. Now having said all that I'll tell you that people worry far too much about asbestos. So long as it is in good condition and left Undisturbed then it poses no risk. Ironically, removal Incurs far greater short term risk of exposure to fibres.
It's hard to see what we are looking at from the pictures, but asbestos cement would be in a dense sheet or other shape, and not like normal mortar mixed up on site
Woody, the quality of the photographs makes no difference. No one on here should be identifying asbestos based on photographs. Its ok to say it looks like it is but its not ok to tell people that it isn't. Everyone should presume that it is unless bulk sampling and analysis tells you otherwise.
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Asbestos in a domestic property will be of defined types, in defined situations. Yes if a material is in one of those situations then assumptions can be made, and guidance can be given via a photo if the OP explains what we should be looking at.

Its a waste of time assuming everything is asbestos if its not even likely to be asbestos in the first place
Woody, I've read many of your posts over the years and you're a very knowledgable guy but the danger here is assuming that your average joe has the pragmatic experience that you have. Assumptions can be made so long as the assumption is that it is asbestos. That assumption will of course mean some people waste their time but it will also mean that a small percentage who would otherwise be exposed to asbestos when that assumption turns out to be wrong are protected. All the legislative guidance tells us that you make the assumption in favour of asbestos, any other assumption is dangerous advice.
What I'm saying here Joe, is that OP seems to be asking if the crumbly "mortar-like" stuff in the pictures is asbestos, and I'm saying that its a waste of time assuming that any or all "mortar-like" stuff is asbestos because then you'll be testing everything all around the house that looks like mortar

If we are actually looking at that sheet with the labels on, and it is a sheet of cement board, then yes it may be wise to assume possible AC sheet

So the presumption to assume asbestos should be made only to materials which may contain asbestos in the first place, and not every single material in every nook and cranny around a house.

His local council will have details of what type of asbestos based products were used, and where they will be located.

I appreciate that the average householder would not have specialist knowledge of asbestos products and may be concerned, but they do not need to be overly concerned about asbestos being everywhere.
Thanks for the replies, guys. I had it looked at by the council's asbestos team and was assured that it was just mortar, also that it had been put there by the contractors who fitted the fire in 2001.

I have since obtained a copy of the council's asbestos survey for the entire estate.

Given the house's age, I think it's wisest to assume that drywall, plasterboard etc probably do contain small amounts of chrysotile. So I'll be taking proper precautions if any drilling etc is to be done.
Given the house's age, I think it's wisest to assume that drywall, plasterboard etc probably do contain small amounts of chrysotile. .
They don`t . The nearest you`ll come to asbestos is a cold water storage tank ; Rainwater and soil pipe+ the soffits of the house - that`ll be asbestos/cement - Good job the Council have done a detailed survey

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