People of a certain age will remember the panic that arose around the material asbestos. They may remember having their schools or offices renovated to remove the dreaded material. If you've just moved into an older building, you may be concerned about what's lurking in the structure of your home. What's it all about and should you be worried? Read on.

What Is It?

Asbestos is a mineral that has been mined from the earth and used for millenniums. It comes in three types: Crocidolite (blue), Amosite (brown) and Chrysotile (white). All are harmful, but blue and brown are considered the most hazardous. Because of its heat resistance, it was widely used in home construction as a fire retardant and insulation for much of the 20th century. Many homes over a certain age will have had asbestos in them at some point if they still don't.

What Harm Does It Do?

None, unless it becomes airborne. Asbestos laced material that is decaying or is disturbed by cutting, sawing and drilling can release particles and fibres. These are hazardous to health if inhaled in large quantities. Asbestos can cause a number of lung issues, including cancer.

How Do You Find It?

Not so easily. In the ideal world, all asbestos materials would be labelled so that you'd know what they are without any effort. Of course, that's not how it works. It's difficult to tell just what may contain asbestos without having a sample sent off to a lab. If you're concerned about materials in your home, call in a professional asbestos inspection company -- they can take a sample and determine what level of threat it is. Do not touch or disturb the suspected asbestos yourself.

What Should You Do with It?

Don't panic. It's important to note that the danger occurs when asbestos is disturbed, damaged or disintegrates due to age. The threat is from airborne particles that can be inhaled rather than stable solid material.

If you have an inspection and asbestos is discovered, what happens next will depend on various things. The specialists will determine what type of asbestos material you have. Friable asbestos crumbles easily and can become airborne making it dangerous. Non-friable asbestos is more tightly bound with other materials. As such, it's more stable and less likely to become airborne unless cut, drilled or sawed. Once this has been established, the specialists will consider whether the material is in good condition. If it is, it may be left in situ and monitored to look for deterioration over time. In cases where asbestos removal is not entirely necessary or suitable, it can be repaired or isolated to prevent future damage. This usually means encasing the material with an airtight barrier.

If you're advised to remove the asbestos, then this work should be undertaken by a certified, professional asbestos removal company. They will be able to offer a thorough removal service. This should include taking an air sample after the work is finished to ensure no airborne asbestos particles remain.