Almost half (48 per cent) of Brits say they are unconcerned about health risks when carrying out home improvements, sparking fears they could be exposing themselves to cancer and other diseases, a new study has found.
Simple tasks such as painting and decorating, drilling, sawing and sanding could unwittingly be exposing people to deadly asbestos.
The toxic substance, which is now banned, was widely used in housebuilding up until the 1980s in everything from garage roofs and Artex ceilings to pipework and floor tiles.
Almost three quarters (73 per cent) of those surveyed lived in a property that was 30 years old or more, but just six per cent had carried out an asbestos survey.
The YouGov poll of 2,098 British adults was commissioned by industrial disease experts at law firm Slater and Gordon, who specialise in cases where people have inhaled or ingested asbestos dust or fibres, most often in the workplace, despite the dangers being known.
The tragedy for many people being diagnosed with mesothelioma now is that they weren’t aware of the risks at the time they were exposed to asbestos.
It can lead to a range of illnesses, the most serious of which is mesothelioma, an incurable and aggressive form of cancer which typically takes decades to manifest itself.
Sixty-one per cent of Brits said they didn’t know what mesothelioma was and more than one in five (21 per cent) even thought it was caused by smoking.
Dominic Smith, from Slater and Gordon’s industrial disease team, said: “The asbestos fibres which cause mesothelioma can lie dormant in the body for years, but once it takes hold it is devastating.
“Some sufferers survive just weeks after diagnosis, not even having had the time to process what has happened to them and leaving their loved ones in utter shock.
“The tragedy for many people being diagnosed with mesothelioma now is that they weren’t aware of the risks at the time they were exposed to asbestos.
“We are aware of the dangers now and must take them seriously.”
Homeowners spent around £5.8 billion on home improvements last year* and almost a quarter of Brits (23 per cent) were planning a DIY project in the new year.
Few were put off by the risks, however, with more than one in five (22 per cent) willing to renovate or replace sheds or garages where asbestos is commonly found without the help of a professional.
Asbestos is most dangerous if disturbed, but 45 per cent would happily drill into walls and 49 per cent would remove tiles, wallpaper or plaster.
Painting over asbestos can help to seal it, but any that has been damaged or disturbed should be removed by a registered professional.
Mr Smith added: “With more and more people turning their hand to DIY, it’s important they know the risks and take all possible precautions to protect themselves.
“Having your home properly checked for asbestos is a simple measure to safeguard the health of you and your family and could even save your life.”
The research also revealed the other health risks that could be hiding in your home such as medium-density fibreboard or MDF. A quarter (25 per cent) of those polled said they would be comfortable cutting it, unaware that it contains a bonding agent classed as carcinogenic in the UK.
Note to Editors
*Figures based on research carried out by MBNA.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,098 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 3/11/2016 and 4/11/2016. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).