Home News Asbestos & Fibreglass: A Comprehensive Comparison

Asbestos & Fibreglass: A Comprehensive Comparison

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Last Updated on 16 May 2024

In this article, we delve into the intricacies of both asbestos and fibreglass materials, shedding light on their properties, uses, safety considerations, and environmental impacts. By the end, you’ll have a clearer understanding of both materials.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos, a mineral found naturally in the world, is recognised for its ability to withstand high temperatures and its long-lasting quality. It has seen extensive use across different sectors such as construction, automotive and manufacturing because of its insulating capabilities.

What is fibreglass?

Contrastingly, fibreglass is a man-made material created from delicate glass fibres. Valued for its durability, flexibility, lightweight nature, thermal and acoustic properties and cost-effectiveness, it is a very common option for insulation, reinforcement materials, and consumer goods.

Characteristics of asbestos

Asbestos has various distinctive properties that make it attractive for industrial uses.  This material is resistant to heat and fire, as well as highly durable, making it ideal for use in high-temperature settings. It can be woven to make fabrics and clothing. The most common type of asbestos used today globally is Chrysotile. Mined extensively in Russia, India and China, it is exported and used as a raw material in many other products.

Asbestos-related health hazards

Nevertheless, even though it was useful, asbestos presents considerable health hazards. Extended contact (and in some cases short term exposures) with asbestos fibres may result in severe respiratory conditions such as lung cancer and mesothelioma. Hence, it is crucial to follow correct handling and disposal protocols while dealing with any asbestos containing materials containing ACM’s.

white asbestos fibres

white asbestos fibres

Characteristics of fibreglass

Fibreglass has remarkable mechanical properties, such as high tensile strength and resistance to corrosion. It’s lightweight and non-conductive, making it perfect for a range of uses in construction and manufacturing.

Advantages of fibreglass

Fibreglass is known for being more budget-friendly than materials such as carbon fibre. Moreover, fibreglass is generally safer and fire-resistant. As the health issues with asbestos became more widely communicated, the technology and use of fibreglass increased, offering a more secure option compared to asbestos in various uses.

Are there guidelines for limiting workplace exposure to fibreglass?

Yes, In the UK. The new fibre-count maximum exposure limit (MEL) of 2 f/ml, which came into force on 1 January 1991, applies to all MMMF, including special purpose (“superfine”) fibres.   In the U.S. in 1999, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the manufacturers (the National Insulation Association, and The Insulation Contractors Association of America) established a voluntary workplace exposure limit for breathable glass fibres.

The agreement, supported by the National Academy of Sciences, establishes relevant glass fibre dimensions and states that within an eight-hour workday, a worker shouldn’t be exposed to more than one breathable glass fibre per cubic centimeter of air.

Asbestos & Fibreglass: Advantages and disadvantages

Asbestos was known for its exceptional heat resistance and durability, but it also clearly poses serious health hazards. Asbestos is still present in a large majority of buildings in the UK and globally. Tradesmen and home owners are still being exposed, generally unaware.

On the flip side, fibreglass provides similar strength and insulation characteristics. However, these come with much lower health risks linked to asbestos exposure.

Construction applications

Asbestos and fibreglass were commonly used in the construction industry. Asbestos used to be highly valued for its insulating properties. However, fibreglass has now become the preferred option for insulation and reinforcement materials due to health concerns relating to asbestos.  From residential homes to industrial complexes, fibreglass finds application in various forms, including slab, rolls, composite products and blown insulation.

reinforced fribreglass insulation

reinforced fibreglass insulation

Dealing with and proper disposal of asbestos

Strict safety measures must be adhered to when dealing with asbestos-containing materials due to the health hazards associated with asbestos fibres. It is important to hire professional licensed asbestos removal services to guarantee safe removal, disposal and reduce exposure

Guidelines for ensuring safety when working with fibreglass

Although fibreglass is typically safer to handle, it’s important to take precautions to prevent skin irritation or respiratory problems. It is important to wear protective gear like gloves, safety goggles and appropriately rated masks while working with fibreglass to avoid exposure to fine fibres.  Proper ventilation and hygiene practices further minimise the risk of adverse health effects associated with fibreglass insulation.

Asbestos and its environmental impact

Asbestos presents considerable environmental hazards, especially if not disposed of correctly. Asbestos fibres have the potential to pollute the air, soil and water courses, creating risks for ecosystems and public health.

Impact of fibreglass on the environment

Although fibreglass is considered less harmful than asbestos, it still has environmental consequences. Emissions are produced during the production process, and pollution can result from improper disposal. Yet, fibreglass can be recycled, helping to reduce its environmental footprint.  Overall, fibreglass, being chemically inert and non-toxic, generally poses fewer environmental concerns at this stage.

Emerging alternatives to asbestos

As awareness of asbestos-related health risks grows, the demand for safer alternatives has consistently risen since the early 1980’s. Innovative materials, such as aerogel insulation and recycled composites, offer promising alternatives to traditional asbestos-containing products.

Conclusion – Asbestos & Fibreglass

Ultimately, the comparison of asbestos vs fibreglass highlights the significance of focusing on safety, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness when selecting construction materials. Although asbestos provides excellent heat resistance, its health hazards surpass its advantages.

Fibreglass is presented as a safer and more eco-friendly option, offering similar strength and insulation qualities without the associated health risks.

Through the utilisation of cutting-edge materials and ethical methods, we have the ability to construct a more secure and environmentally-friendly tomorrow for future future generations.

FAQ’s – Asbestos and Fibreglass

Here we answer some common questions and concerns surrounding the use of these materials and any potential health risks associated with them.

Q. How do I identify asbestos in my home?

Asbestos can be found in hundreds of building materials, including insulation, roofing,  floor tiles, textured coatings, bitumen products etc. If your home was built before 1999, there’s a possibility it may contain asbestos. If it was built in the 1950’s to early 1980’s there’s a strong possibility asbestos will be present. However, since asbestos fibres are microscopic and not easily identifiable by sight, it’s recommended to hire a qualified asbestos inspector/surveyor to conduct testing if you suspect its presence.

Q. Is fibreglass a safer alternative to asbestos?

Yes, fibreglass is generally considered a safer alternative. As outlined above this choice is no longer possible for the UK. Unlike asbestos, fibreglass does not pose the same health risks associated with exposure to airborne fibres. Fibreglass is non-toxic, non-combustible, and releases less harmful particles into the air, making it a preferred choice for insulation and reinforcement materials in modern construction. Any exposure to asbestos fibreglass or any other dust should be avoided as much as possible by reduction at source and appropriate PPE.

Q. Can asbestos or fibreglass be recycled?

While fibreglass can be recycled, asbestos traditionally could not be be recycled due to its ability to resist chemical attack and intense heat. Several newer technologies are now coming on stream and recycling is a possibility in certain circumstances. Fibreglass recycling involves breaking down used fibreglass products into raw materials that can be used to manufacture new products.

Q. What are the main uses of fibreglass?

Fibreglass has a wide range of applications across various industries. It is commonly used in building insulation, automotive components, marine vessels, and consumer products such as bathtubs and surfboards. Its versatility, durability, and affordability make it a popular choice for reinforcing materials and insulation in construction and manufacturing.

Q. How does the cost of asbestos removal compare to fibreglass installation?

Asbestos removal can be extremely costly due to insurance, training, landfill costs and health and safety regulations. Fibreglass removal is generally in line with other demolition products, although it needs separating as it can be recycled.

Q. Are there any regulations regarding asbestos exposure?

Yes, there are strict regulations in place to protect against asbestos exposure and ensure safe handling and disposal practices. In the UK, the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 sets out legal requirements for the management of asbestos in workplaces and public buildings. These regulations mandate risk assessments, training for employees working with asbestos, and proper procedures for handling and removing asbestos-containing materials.

Q. How does exposure to asbestos affect health?

Prolonged exposure to asbestos fibres can have serious health consequences, including respiratory illnesses and cancer. Asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis typically develop after years of inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibres. Symptoms may not appear for decades after exposure, making early detection and prevention crucial. If you believe you’ve been exposed to asbestos, it’s important to seek medical attention and notify your healthcare provider of any potential risks.

Need professional advice?

We hope you found our article both interesting and informative.  If you need any help or advice in regards to asbestos in your property then we’ll be very happy to assist you.  Give us a call and our experts will give you some advice and guidance on whatever if is you’re concerned about.

Please contact us on 0800 141 2676, email us at info@rbasbestos.co.uk or fill in the form below.

Our professional surveyors conduct inspections and surveys every day across the UK on all types of properties, both residential and commercial, for private home owners and commercial property Managers and owners.  So when it comes to managing ACMs in your property, you’re in very safe hands with RB!!

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