Last edited 23 Apr 2018

Asbestos cement

Asbestos cement (AC), also known as ‘fibro’ or AC sheet, is a thin cement sheet or panel which is given rigidity by the use of asbestos fibres. Asbestos cement can be moulded into any shape that ordinary wet cement can, but typically, it is formed into flat or corrugated sheets or piping. AC is generally grey or brown in appearance and has a coarse texture.

As a modern construction material, AC became popular during and post-World War II as a means of building inexpensive structures. It was also promoted as a fire-resistant alternative to more common roofing materials such as asphalt as well as an affordable alternative to timber shingles, brick, slate, stone, and so on. Today, AC is commonly found in the roofs and walls of old sheds, garages or in soffits beneath eaves.

The use of AC has been banned in several countries. This is because it contains asbestos and when it ages it releases tiny fibres into the air which can be inhaled in the lungs and may increase the risk of lung diseases.

Contractors for licensable asbestos removal are held on a list by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). AC panels are a non-licensable asbestos product, which means they may be removed by non-licence holders but the work must be carried out in accordance with HSE requirements by suitably trained personnel for the work.

The removal of asbestos is undertaken under very controlled conditions. The removal of AC panels is an exception, since the asbestos is in a bound matrix, and there is a low risk to public health. The relatively small proportion of asbestos (10-15%), as well as it being firmly bound by cement, means that it is generally capable of remaining rigid without releasing the fibres into the air. Panels may be discoloured or cracked in places but this will not negatively affect their integrity and make them hazardous. AC panels can be found indoors, but as long as they are undamaged they do not need to be removed, but should be subject to regular checking, and can be sealed with paint or sealant.

In the UK, there is no legal requirement to dispose of AC, but care should be taken not to damage the panels in any way that could generate dust, thereby releasing fibres. If homeowners require it, they can arrange a disposal of AC panels with the help of the local council.

Safe steps to take when removing AC sheets include:

  • Using a water sprayer to dampen the area around bolts and fasteners and reduce dust.
  • Avoiding the application of pressure to panels which could cause them to break.
  • Avoiding cutting, breaking or doing anything to panels which could generate dust.
  • Lower the panels carefully and place in strong polythene sacks sealed with tape.
  • The sacks should be clearly labelled as containing AC.
  • Any debris should be removed.
  • Equipment and surfaces that may have dust on them should be cleaned, as should protective clothing.

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