Asbestos and retail – not just a cosmetic problem

January 4, 2018

An American mum made the unpleasant discovery that a make-up kit sold by chain retailer Claire’s, belonging to her six-year-old daughter, had asbestos in it.

The 30-year-old mother, who’s from Rhode Island and works for a law firm herself, told journalists she felt she had to research further after she found her daughter’s glitter make-up kit said that the product was made in China, but offered no further details about what ingredients it contained.

Kristi Warner duly sent the kit to a private lab to be tested. The results revealed that the kit contained tremolite asbestos, which has been linked to cancer.

She sent a further 17 products from the Chicago-based retailer, whose jewellery, cosmetics and accessories products are overwhelmingly aimed at young women and girls, for testing – and says the results all came back positive.

The mum also explained that she didn’t know what to reply when her daughter Mackenzie asked her what was happening.

“I physically sank,” she told reporters after taking the story to her local radio station, WJAR-TV. “I ended up sitting on the ground, trying to understand how something like that could end up in our home.”

Mackenzie asked her if she was going to die, to which, Warner says, “There’s no right answer because I don’t want to lie to her. In the work that we do, we’ve come across contaminated cosmetics, but you just assume that a children’s product is safe.”

Negative publicity following asbestos story

The story was certainly a PR headache for the 57-year-old retail chain, which has nearly 3,500 stores including more than 1,100 in Europe, and branches across the UK.

And it sparked outrage on social media, with Twitter users making comments such as “Do you even have a quality inspection?” and “A company your size has the money and resources to perform proper quality control inspections. Sourcing products from other countries without testing and due diligence is at best, lazy, dangerous, and definitely negligent.”

One wrote simply “I hope you go out of business for putting millions of children in grave danger.”

Response from Claire’s: product recall

In response, the retailer released a link to a page with a list of the products it had decided to recall. (About 10 of them.)

It also gave this statement to a national newspaper:

“The initial results of testing by an independent certified laboratory show that the cosmetics tested to date are asbestos-free. Additional testing is underway. We have also confirmed that the talcum ingredient supply is from a certified asbestos-free European vendor.

“We will honour returns for any customers remaining uncomfortable.”

A spokesman added: “The safety of our customers is paramount, and we are passionate about the safety and integrity of our products.”

Asbestos problems in store elsewhere

Claire’s is not the only retailer to have got into trouble with asbestos. Justice, a US retail chain, again aimed at girls, announced last summer it had stopped selling a highlighter powder following a TV report alleging the product contained asbestos.

Clearly, the issue is not just that the cancer-causing substance can get into products, it can also be found in retail premises, where it can pose a risk to shoppers, staff and any other visitors.

Asbestos-containing materials often remain unnoticed in premises constructed or refurbished up until 1999, including many High Street shops and other retail units.

In August 2016, BHS famously closed the last 22 of its 94 High Street stores across the UK, many of which contained asbestos.

Meanwhile, M&S has found asbestos at different times at various branches. The flagship branch in London’s Marble Arch had to warn customers and staff about this issue as recently as 2013.

Popular retailer Woolworths also had many stores which contained asbestos as they had not been refurbished for many years. Core Surveys carried out refurbishment surveys on several of the stores prior to their refurbishment after they were bought following liquidation.

Dangers of asbestos to human health

Asbestos is toxic to the human circulatory system, and often fatal. Moving or otherwise disturbing the fibres makes them airborne, so that they can be inhaled and will sit in the system, often for years or decades without symptoms. There are no symptoms and no way of knowing you’ve inhaled the fibres, until the fibres give rise to a typically life-threatening condition from which recovery is almost impossible.

Children and young people, with more time ahead of them to develop illnesses, are especially vulnerable, making problems with brands aimed at youngsters, like Claire’s or Justice, especially serious.

In almost every case of mesothelioma, an incurable cancer affecting the lining of the lung, the cause can be traced to asbestos. Despite the asbestos legislation that’s now effective, there are more mesothelioma deaths in the UK than anywhere else worldwide.

More information

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has an area of its website dedicated to giving information about asbestos.

Visit it here:

Get an asbestos survey

These stories of asbestos discoveries in shops or their products highlight the importance of not taking any chances with asbestos, especially with buildings the public visit. The only way to be 100% sure a building is either free from asbestos or that it is being managed effectively is to conduct an asbestos survey.

Core Surveys, based in Fletching Common, East Sussex, and Monmouthshire, South Wales works nationwide. We’re fully accredited to undertake all types of asbestos inspections and testing, while also providing asbestos management services and awareness training. Our clients range from homeowners to charities and large organisations – we help with legal compliance on asbestos. Talk to a member of the team to learn more.

Union guidance on asbestos: schools advised against putting up festive decorations

December 19, 2017

Schools shouldn’t use staples or pins to fasten Christmas decorations to ceilings and walls in classrooms, as this could potentially disturb asbestos, if the make-up of the ceiling or walls is not known.

Children particularly vulnerable to asbestos dangers

That’s the advice of the Joint Union Asbestos Committee, which represents nine teaching and support worker unions. Pressing pins or staples into ceilings or walls which contain asbestos could release harmful fibres. Breathing them in could lead to diseases like mesothelioma, an aggressive type of incurable lung cancer typically linked to asbestos, which may not make presence felt for years. Indeed, it is typically diagnosed up to 60 years after exposure.

Typically, some 2,600 people a year in the UK lose their lives to this condition, more than die on the roads, and it’s the highest incidence of this illness to be found anywhere in the world – Britain was once the biggest user of asbestos in the world.

(Because of this, children are especially vulnerable since they have so many years ahead of them, the disease clearly has much more time to develop.)

‘Timely reminders’

Schools have now been urged to give staff ‘timely reminders’ and to ensure there is provision for decorations in their ‘asbestos management plan’.

According to a report on the Schools Week website, nearly a fifth of schools in the UK are not managing asbestos properly, while government intervention has been needed in dozens of schools found to represent ‘significant cause for concern’.

Uncertainty over presence of asbestos

What’s more, around half of school staff claim to be unsure whether or not their buildings have asbestos. However, the reality that, in any school built pre-2000, there is likely to be some of this carcinogenic compound. (The law says ‘it must be assumed that it is present, unless it can be proved otherwise’.)

This new guidance serves as a pertinent reminder of how deadly asbestos can be, and how easily it can be disturbed by something as seemingly innocuous as putting up seasonal decorations.

And if you’re decorating a classroom or similar area for Christmas, or even just displaying pupils’ artwork, you may want to use noticeboards or freestanding decorations instead. Or use Blu Tac or sellotape, which won’t involve piercing the surface.

The advice adds: “Nearly 90% of schools still contain asbestos. This message needs to be repeated regularly – not just at Christmas – because of staff turnover and because messages can be forgotten over time.”

Cuts to funding ‘increase asbestos risks’

A Freedom of Information Request made this year by the Joint Union Asbestos Committee showed that well over 300 primary and secondary school teachers died from mesothelioma in the UK between 1980 and 2015, along with dozens of other school staff including admin workers, nursery nurses, lunchtime helpers and teaching assistants. It’s almost impossible to know how many former pupils may have lost their lives in the same way after inhaling asbestos fibres while at school, since figures are only recorded by occupation.

Experts quoted by the HSE forecast that asbestos-related deaths will be 91,000 by 2050, with nearly 61,000 of those occurring from 2007 and later.

Head of Education at the union UNISON said: ““The cuts in schools budgets and the fragmentation of the school system have undermined how health and safety risks such as asbestos are managed.

“In addition, the cuts in the schools building programme mean that old, asbestos ridden and poorly maintained buildings continue to be used to teach our children putting them and staff at risk.”


A 2015 study on asbestos in schools by the all-party parliamentary group on occupational health and safety said the issue was a ‘timebomb’. The Medical Research Council (MRC) reckoned that children attending schools completed before 1975 are likely to inhale some three million asbestos fibres during their years of education.

Nearly all of the 14,000 schools constructed between 1945 and 1975 contain the presence, the Guardian reported earlier this year.
“This is a ticking time bomb – few teachers and parents know there is asbestos in schools. The least we should do is make sure that information is available to them,” said Rachel Reeves MP, chair of the Asbestos in Schools group.

Council pay-outs

According to a BBC report from around this time last year, English local authorities have paid out at least £10m in compensation to those who grew ill after inhaling asbestos in school buildings. That amounts to more than dozens of councils settling claims from former staff or pupils.

East Sussex was the council which had paid out the most, spending nearly £1.3m between 2006 and 2016 on asbestos-related claims.

And while the government has said it is investing £23bn in improving school buildings, campaigners insist the presence of asbestos in schools continues to pose a grave health risk to those who use them.

In recent years, local authorities have also recorded almost 100 cases of significant asbestos disturbances, where lives have been endangered due to potential exposure. (The substance is only harmful when it is disturbed.)

More information is available from the Health & Safety Executive’s website:

And here is another link, from the Education & Skills Funding Agency:

Importance of an asbestos survey

The BBC also found no consistent approach to monitoring the existence of asbestos in English schools, with a number of councils reporting that they did not hold information about which of their schools might contain the hazardous substance. Equally, because some councils wouldn’t reveal how many asbestos-related claims it had settled, the final total of compensation could be in excess of the £10m mentioned above.

Clearly, the only way to really know whether any structure contains asbestos is to have a proper survey carried out. At Core Surveys, based in Fletching Common, East Sussex and Monmouthshire, South Wales, we undertake surveys nationwide. We’re specialists with extensive expertise in this field, conducting surveys, air monitoring and asbestos management services alongside awareness training.

Get in touch now for a free quote for your school.

The threat of asbestos to builders: an overview

December 4, 2017

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals, sharing something called an asbestiform habit, meaning they have long, thin, fibrous crystals. Each visible fibre comprises millions of microscopic ‘fibrils’ which abrasion and similar processes will release. These are typically known by their colours – blue, brown or white asbestos.

Asbestos is found in numerous materials commonly used in the building trade. It may also be in things like lagging or roofing felt, or in a loose form in a ceiling or floor cavity.

It’s a notoriously tricky thing to identify, since it can often be mixed with other materials.

A brief history

More than four thousand years ago, this substance was already being mined. However, mining on a large-scale started as the nineteenth century was ending, after asbestos’s desirable physical qualities, from sound absorption to strength, fire resistance and affordability, were noticed. It was also used in electrical and building insulation. Often, the fibres would be mixed with cement or woven into fabric or mats.

Indeed, such was its popularity the material was once dubbed ‘miraculous’.

When was it banned?

It was banned in the UK in all its forms in August 1999, when the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott signed the Asbestos (Prohibitions) (Amendment) Regulations 1999. It became law three months later, five years ahead of the European deadline.

By 1999, in any case, chrystotile was the only kind of asbestos allowed in the UK since the 1985 banning of amosite and crocidolite.

And the most perilous type of asbestos hasn’t been used here since the 1970s, when a voluntary industry ban came into effect. Even where it was used, only those working in particular sectors came into close contact with it – including carpentry, ship building and construction.

What the 1999 complete ban means is that if a building was completed in or after 2000, it is unlikely to have any asbestos. But if you are unsure of when a structure was finished, you should assume it is present. Equally, some brownfield sites may have buried asbestos and it may also still be present in old equipment such as fire blankets or soundproofing.

The dangers to builders

The reality is that most builders, at some point during their working lives, are likely to find themselves on a site where asbestos is present.

Asbestos is completely toxic as far as the human circulatory system is concerned. Indeed, it can very frequently be fatal. Moving or otherwise disturbing the fibres makes them airborne so that they can be inhaled and will sit in a person’s system, often for years on end. There are no symptoms and no way of knowing you’ve inhaled the fibres, until, perhaps years or even decades later, when the threads give rise to a typically life-threatening condition from which it’s all but impossible to make a recovery.

In almost every case of mesothelioma, for example, an incurable cancer affecting the lining of the lung, the cause can be traced to asbestos exposure. Despite the asbestos legislation now in place, there are more mesothelioma deaths in the UK than in any other country in the world, with more than double the number of deaths from this than motor vehicle accidents.

Any builder working on a site known to contain asbestos is putting themselves at risk, if the correct precautions are not taken or relevant information is not available or provided. Just demolishing a structure disturbs the fibres and puts workers at risk of inhaling them.

So all firms carrying out building at a site thought to contain asbestos need to ensure a proper specialist survey is completed before anyone sets foot on the site (a Refurbishment / Demolition Asbestos Survey).

What to do if you come across potential asbestos

The first thing to do is to stop work immediately on any site where there’s even a possibility of asbestos presence and the relevant information has not been provided. Either confirm what the substance is, by using a UKAS accredited asbestos surveying company, or assume it is asbestos and conduct a risk assessment. This will help you to decide whether the work should be completed by a licensed contractor. Only those with the right information, instruction and training should carry out non-licensed work in asbestos.

More information

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a comprehensive area of its website where you can find out more about asbestos.

Visit it here:

Get an asbestos survey

So, clearly, this is not a substance you can afford to take any chances with, especially in the building trade. An asbestos survey is an essential part in protecting yourself and others.

At Core Surveys, based in Fletching Common, East Sussex and Monmouthshire, South Wales, we’re ideally placed to serve customers across London, the South East, Wales and the South West. We’re fully accredited to undertake all types of asbestos inspections and testing, while also providing asbestos management surveys and awareness training. Our clients include everyone from homeowners to charities and large organisations – we help them comply with the latest guidance and legislation on asbestos. Talk to a member of the team today to find out more.

Poor quality asbestos surveys could cost schools millions

November 23, 2017

Some of the sites the government is buying for free schools don’t have current asbestos surveys, meaning the taxpayer could have to fit a potential bill of millions for the necessary refurbishments once asbestos is discovered later on, Schools Week reports.

Experts have said that because the Education Funding Agency (EFA) is ‘under pressure’ to find sites for free schools, the resulting surveys of ‘varying quality’ haven‘t always identified all asbestos in all school buildings.

And John McClean, chair of the Joint Union Asbestos Committee, says ‘political pressure’ to find school sites means the EFA has to rely on ‘rushed’ site surveys.

Yet, just last year, minister for vulnerable children Edward Timpson insisted the EFA should complete asbestos surveys before a site was purchased ‘if further investigation’ was deemed necessary.

Now it’s being reported that at least six schools had the green light from the EFA without a proper survey having been done. Freedom of Information requests revealed that a number asked for more money after asbestos was subsequently discovered.

What’s more, the bill for removing asbestos can run to as much as £5m. A school must then be made serviceable once more before pupils can move back in.

Labour MP Rachel Reeves, chair of the Asbestos In Schools steering group, described the government’s ‘failure’ to carry out appropriate asbestos survey work at all pre-2000 sites (i.e. before the year when the carcinogenic substance was banned) as ‘grossly negligent’. She added that schools were potentially also risking staff and pupils’ health.

Schools in Blackburn, Bournemouth and Bradford were found to have extensive or high-risk asbestos on their sites. In Nottingham, the EFA gave an institution the go-ahead before a survey found white asbestos around pipework and floor debris, although this was removed before students moved in.

Better surveys from the outset, along with competent asbestos awareness training for staff, would save money and be less disruptive in the long run by removing all asbestos at an earlier stage.

The Department for Education stressed that the government was investing £23bn in school buildings by 2021, which ‘would help manage asbestos safely’.  It also says it is changing the way information about asbestos is collected in schools to enhance understanding.

At Core Surveys, we find reports like this worrying and believe they firmly highlight the need for high-quality, effective asbestos refurbishment and demolition surveys carried out at an early stage of any building project, whether it’s a refurbishment or new build, for a school or any other type of premises.

With more than four decades’ combined experience in the asbestos survey industry, we’re specialist consultants in this field for asbestos management surveys, refurbishment and demolition surveys. Core Surveys are UKAS accredited to ISO17020 for undertaking asbestos surveys and all samples are analysed at our in-house laboratory which is UKAS accredited to ISO17025. We are also UKAS accredited for asbestos air monitoring during and following asbestos removal, which means we are perfectly placed to offer the full asbestos consultancy package from survey through to project management and sign-off of asbestos removal, ensuring that you comply with the law at all times.

A good survey, carried out at the right time, will save your organisation money in the long run. Talk to us today.

Asbestos refurbishment surveys: why they’re important

November 8, 2017

Asbestos-related health conditions are ‘silent killers’ which take the lives of more people than road accidents do. Indeed, there are no asbestos fibres which can be classed as safe – all can lead to the same diseases and so are treated equally under UK legislation and guidance.

At the turn of the millennium, this carcinogenic substance was outlawed for new builds, but because anything built before then could contain it, asbestos refurbishment surveys must be done on structures built Pre 2000. This also keeps contractors, builders and anyone else working on or visiting a property safe.

What does a Management and a Refurbishment Survey do?

An asbestos survey will highlight whether a property has any asbestos material, as far as reasonably practicable. And, if you own a non-domestic building, you’re legally obliged to make sure it’s handled properly and not disturbed. Safe handling of asbestos is vital to keep the risk of exposing occupants to fibres as low as possible.

Management asbestos surveys are non-intrusive, visual inspections at which samples of relevant materials are taken for testing at an accredited lab. Core Surveys have their own in-house asbestos testing laboratory, accredited to UKAS ISO17025.

In contrast, refurbishment surveys are described as ‘intrusive and destructive’, and locate all asbestos-containing materials before a place is refurbished, whether that’s a whole building or part of a structure.

One is needed even if you have already identified where you have asbestos in a particular structure and will examine relevant material, and the surrounding areas which could also have asbestos, including walls and ceilings.

Where a building is to be completely demolished, a different kind of survey, again clearly a destructive one, is carried out known as a demolition survey.

Whatever kind of survey your property needs, it’s vital that this work is carried out by a professional, experienced asbestos surveyor able to identify asbestos-containing materials safely.

Finally, it’s clearly also important that your asbestos survey is done early on, before any refurbishment work starts.

At Core Surveys we’re specialist consultants in management, refurbishment and demolition surveys. We’re UKAS accredited (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) to ISO17020 for undertaking asbestos surveys, and all samples are analysed at our in-house laboratory, UKAS accredited to ISO17025.

We’re also UKAS accredited for asbestos air monitoring during and following asbestos removal, which means we are perfectly placed to offer a full asbestos consultancy package from survey through to project management and sign-off of asbestos removal, ensuring that you comply with the law at all times. Get in touch now.

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