Asbestos Paper – Safety Tips and Identification
Asbestos was used in a huge range of construction products and saw commercial and domestic use in the UK for decades from the early 1900s until 1999 when it was outright banned. A lesser-known use was to create asbestos paper or felt and in the below guide I explain how it was used, its benefits, and the potential dangers if you find it in your house.
Understanding Asbestos Paper and Textiles
Asbestos is a naturally fibrous material which means that it can easily be moulded, woven, and spun to create different products. One such way that it was used was being woven into thin sheets of paper which was then used in a variety of different products including:
- Fuse guards in electrical components.
- Paper lining for linoleum.
- Paper lining for fibreboard.
- Ironing board covers.
- Fire blankets.
- Felt products.
Typically, these paper-type products would contain a minimum of 80% chrysotile asbestos and often were made from pure asbestos.
When turned into asbestos felt, it would typically be used as backing or an underlay for things like floor tiles, ceiling tiles, and roofs. It was also commonly used in a commercial means in paper mills – they would use sheets of asbestos paper to dry out hot pulp on top of.
Why Was Asbestos Used to Create Paper and Textiles?
Asbestos has two important qualities – fire or heat resistance and durability. These two properties made it incredibly useful for residential and commercial construction products and due to its wide availability during the main mining area, it was relatively cheap too.
Asbestos could also easily be woven and moulded into paper sheets or rolls compared to the creation process for other similar products.
What Does Asbestos Paper and Textiles Look Like?
Because of the high asbestos content, asbestos paper is usually white in colour although it can have flecks of grey in. It isn’t smooth like the paper we use to write on, but fibrous, textured, and rough. Depending on how it is made, the paper sheets can have a woven appearance too similar to wicker or basket weaving.
Because asbestos paper and felt was generally used for underlay, it’s often difficult to spot and identify. If you think that your flooring or even things like ironing boards or felt roofs could contain asbestos, I advise using an asbestos home testing kit.
These sampling kits are easy to use and include everything you need to safely take the samples. For example, you get a respirator mask and coveralls. Samples can then be sent to a lab for analysis to see if the paper does contain asbestos. Alternatively you could call a local asbestos surveyor to come and take a look for you.
Is Asbestos Paper Still Common in the UK?
Asbestos paper is not still produced in the UK and all asbestos products were banned in 1999. However, because of how extensively it was used, many properties in the UK still contain traces of asbestos such as asbestos paper.
You have to look at the age of your property and the items inside to determine the likelihood of asbestos. If your house was built before 1999, it could contain asbestos. The older it is, the higher the chance. Also, think about things like your linoleum floors, ceiling tiles, and roofs on outbuildings.
If they have been replaced recently (after 1999) they won’t contain any asbestos paper backing. However, if they are original and have been in situ for decades, they could contain asbestos paper.
How Dangerous is Asbestos Paper and Textiles?
Asbestos textiles and paper are considered to be non-licensable as per the HSE guidelines. This means you don’t need a licensed contractor to remove them. Asbestos felt, however, is friable and considered licensable work so a licensed contractor is needed.
If left untouched and undamaged, the health risk from asbestos paper and textiles isn’t as great. However, if the material is crumbled, or the paper damaged and exposed, the heath risk is incredibly high and you must take precautionary measures.
 – HSE – Non-Licensed Work with Asbestos