Marcus Lockett

Asbestos encapsulation: why removal isn’t always the best option

  • 13 Jun 2016

GUEST BLOG: Marcus Lockett, Managing Director of SPI Performance Coatings, explores why asbestos encapsulation is rapidly becoming the preferred method of choice for dealing with the dangers of asbestos within more established buildings.

Asbestos: the background

Asbestos was extensively used by the UK construction industry from the 1950s to the mid-1980s for a wide range of applications, the most common being fireproofing and insulation.

Take the education sector, for instance. From the 1950s to the 1980s, ‘system buildings’ were one of the most popular methods of erecting school premises. However, this method of construction relied on structural columns being fireproofed with Asbestos Containing Materials (ACM).

Asbestos: the current picture

Although asbestos was made illegal in 1999, it’s highly probable that any building that was built before the year 2000 contains some form of asbestos.

Asbestos EncapsulationAccording to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) asbestos materials in good condition are considered safe unless asbestos fibres become airborne, which happens when materials become damaged. And it’s these ‘damaged’ particles that have been proven over the years to present a health risk, with asbestos being linked to diseases, including lung cancer, asbestosis, diffuse pleural thickening, and mesothelioma

Given this risk, individuals and companies responsible for maintaining and repairing premises have a duty to manage asbestos as part of the Control of Asbestos Regulations, which came into force in 2012.

What’s more, an abundance of Government-funded research and funding has resulted in many schools being tasked with the challenge of finding an asbestos management solution that suits their property and meets their budget and timescale.

However, what many people do not realise is that according to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regulations, asbestos that is in good condition, can be left where it is, providing an in-place management plan is exercised.

Why opt for encapsulation over removal and what are the benefits?

While asbestos removal may seem like the obvious choice for dealing with asbestos, it’s often complicated, expensive and can result in extensive downtime. In contrast, asbestos encapsulation within a seamless, protective coating is possibly the safest and most cost effective method of asbestos management. It involves relatively little disturbance of the asbestos, therefore minimising risk.

But that’s not the only advantage to asbestos encapsulation. For example, roofs are an area where asbestos tends to be rife, with an estimated 1.5 million non-domestic properties reported to have an asbestos roof. Opting to encapsulate roof asbestos as opposed to removing it:

  • Eradicates the need to dispose of the material, which can be hazardous, costly and is subject to strict controls
  • Can be completed more efficiently which, in turn, reduces overall disruption, on-site time and any associated costs

How does asbestos encapsulation work?

Encapsulation involves covering the asbestos with performance coating that predominantly:

  • Protects and repairs any damaged asbestos and seals any exposed, raw asbestos edges
  • Increases the useful life of the material
  • Reduces any fibre release through general degradation
  • Protects against accidental knocks and scrapes 
  • Improves the overall appearance of the material

Special polyurea products are used to apply the coating, which typically only has to be applied once and can often seal asbestos that’s present in hard to reach places. What’s more, another advantage offering by the coating is that it’s less likely to flake or crack over time.

Compared to other more traditional materials like polyurethane and epoxies, polyurea technologies offer fast and reliable application. Touch dry in a matter of minutes, layers can be built up quickly, which means a site can return to service in hours, rather than weeks. 

A plural component spray, polyurea technologies are renowned for outperforming all other performance coatings when it comes to preventing or bridging dynamic cracks, providing durability and the ultimate layer of protection. With no VOCs, polyurea technologies are also ideal for environments where health and safety is of primary concern, as well as buildings that will remain occupied during the application process. 

As with any polyurea treatment, encapsulation is conducted by trained staff in controlled conditions and in accordance with the latest industry regulations and standards. Although every encapsulation is tailored to each site, most processes tend to typically involve adequately preparing the area to ensure the best possible results and regular follow up checks to assess the condition of the asbestos over time.

While many people’s instinct might be to remove asbestos, it’s worth remembering that it’s not necessarily the safest or most cost effective solution. Providing the asbestos is deemed to be in good condition, taking the route of asbestos encapsulation is a highly effective, more affordable way of managing asbestos, not to mention, less hazardous and more efficient.

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