Some time ago, I helped a friend renovate her house. It was an old farmhouse, with plenty of charm and character, which had been renovated in the 1960s using oil paint, wood preservatives, asbestos – everything that was customary at the time. Asbestos in particular was said to have excellent insulating properties, in addition to being highly resistant to heat and chemicals. So it was put in just about everywhere, even in the flooring, roof cover, facade or window sills.

Asbestosis claims over 1,000 deaths annually

Just ten years later it turned out that asbestos damages the lungs. The fabric consists of many tiny, thin fibrous crystals, which we inhale as dust. The disease is called asbestosis and is a recognized occupational disease with over 1,000 deaths annually – even as late as 2017.

The building material experienced a boom between 1960 and 1980, until it was banned in Germany in 1993. It is assumed that asbestos was installed for a good two more years. So it was no question that quite a lot of it had to be removed in my friend’s house. Just a few years ago I wouldn’t have given it much of a thought and would have thrown everything out of the window into a dumpster. Thanks to the clarification provided by my colleagues and the expansion of our asbestos laboratory, I know how wrong this is. We set to work with dust mask and gloves and collected the materials separately. From celebrated building material to hazardous waste.

Danger is in the air

My colleague also explained to me that there is solid and loosely-bound asbestos. In solid form it occurs in cement, for example. As long as the building material is intact and no work is done on it, no fibers are released. The situation is different for products that have a high asbestos content and a low binder content. These building materials can release asbestos fibers into the air without being worked on.

To make sure that asbestos has not been used in your home, my colleagues offer instructions on how to take samples. This saves time and money and may even protect your health because the inhaled fibers can cause various diseases such as cancers of the pleura and peritoneum. What is particularly devious is that diseases can occur with a delay, i.e. with a latency period of two to 60 years.

My colleagues in the lab check the building materials for asbestos. They don’t need more than a fingernail-sized piece for this. This piece is crushed, heated to 450 degrees Celsius and then poured through a gold filter with diluted acid. Put on the slide and steamed off with gold. Sounds funny, but this is necessary for the fibers to be detected in the scanning electron microscope. And indeed, you can see them very well, although they are about ten times thinner than an average hair.

My friend’s house today offers a wonderful interior climate – combined with the peace of mind that all harmful substances are gone. This is important because we want to feel comfortable and safe at home.

Author

Nicole Krzemien

Nicole Krzemien

Social Media Manager

Hmm, I wonder what you want to know about me. Did I enjoy my studies to the full? Was I also allowed to do a solid education once? Do I find my job in marketing and communication at TÜV Rheinland varied and fascinating? Do I love the refreshing balancing act between work and family? Do I like to move on or at the water, no matter if liquid or airily frozen? Will my expert colleagues from the industry service sector impress me again and again? Am I eager to listen when they report on the causality of energy or technology issues? Whether I try – at least in my mind – to bring these innovations into my everyday life? And, whether I read more than I write? The answer to all questions is: Yes.

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