Asbestos was not completely banned in the UK until 1999, and whilst its use should have stopped over the subsequent years, due to very real health concerns, asbestos is still present in a number of residential and commercial buildings throughout the UK. An important distinction to make is that Artex and asbestos are not the same thing, Artex is in fact a genericised trademark, like Perspex, that is often used to refer to a textured surface coating material similar to plaster. The name Artex is actually an acronym for Asbestos Reinforced TEXtured coating; as the name suggests asbestos was added to the product to create a thicker and stronger product which is why Artex has become synonymous with a 1970’s style textured finish. The malleability of the product meant that it could be applied in a similar fashion to plaster but without the same degree of skill which is why it became a popular choice for ceilings and wall throughout the UK. It should be noted that Artex still exists today and no longer contains asbestos.
It is not possible to identify if an Artex ceiling contains asbestos just by looking at it, a sample would need to be taken and tested in order to determine if the material contained asbestos and indeed to what level. Whilst asbestos-free Artex products have been available since the 1970’s we would always recommend that caution is exercised and unless you can be categorically sure that redecoration was undertaken later than 1999 it is sensible to assume that it contains asbestos. The quantity of asbestos in Artex is relatively low, typically stated as around 1-2%. However, its asbestos content can be as much as 4% with figures from the HSE of 1.8% asbestos for ready mixed products and around 3.8% asbestos for trade use. The type of asbestos found in Artex is chrysotile,also known as white asbestos which was mined in Canada up until 2012 as exported to developing economies such as India and Vietnam.
If you do find you have an Artex coating on your ceiling or are thinking of purchasing a property that does it may not necessarily pose a risk. Asbestos fibres are only dangerous when disturbed and breathed in through the lungs. If you are planning to have construction or maintenance work done on your property, and the Artex is likely to be disturbed, you should have a refurbishment and demolition asbestos survey done. This survey will identify if asbestos is present. If asbestos is found, this will need to be addressed and either removed or protected before work can commence.
Some asbestos can be removed by a non-licensed contractor, in small quantities or if it is low risk work. Removing textured coatings, like Artex, is non-licensed work, but this doesn’t mean it is safe or that no controls need to be in place. Failing to take the necessary safety measures is potentially hugely dangerous and can be fatal. Ultimately there are three options when it comes to managing Artex:
- Remove the Artex under the guidance or supervision of a trained professional
- Unibond or apply PVA over the Artex surface and re-plaster
- Plasterboard over the Artex
Each of these solutions comes with risk given the volatility of the material and there is no one size fits all resolution. Adding additional layers of plaster or plasterboard can add additional weight to the ceiling possibly causing it to collapse and potentially discharging asbestos fibres into the atmosphere. Whichever solution you deem the most appropriate we always recommend that the correct guidance is sought as the presence of asbestos poses a very serious health risk to occupants if disturbed.
Useful resources, some of which can be found in this article, for the control or disposal of asbestos include: