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Machine-made mineral fibres: Their use, benefits and risks
According to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, machine-made mineral fibres (MMMF) are one of the top ten emerging health risks for workers within the EU. Worries over the possible health effects of MMMF are not new, although studies have generally failed to establish a link between cancer in humans and MMMF insulation other than in the case of refractory ceramic fibres and special purpose fibres that tend to be of smaller diameter than the materials commonly used within buildings. However, the picture is clouded owing to the use of different additives aimed at reducing biopersistence, which, in turn, makes the collection of reliable data from epidemiological studies difficult and sometimes unreliable. Given the move to greater insulation levels and reduced air leakage from buildings, more attention needs to be paid to indoor air quality and the possible contribution that insulation materials may play in this. MMMF, if used correctly, has a valuable role to play, but only with proper consideration of moisture management in a building. While MMMF uses a high proportion of recycled material in its manufacture, the opportunities for recycling used materials are less certain and may be problematic. Provided suitable measures are taken to reduce dust and prevent skin contact during installation and disposal operations, there are no significant risks to occupiers of buildings insulated with MMMF. Sensible precautions are however essential to limit the inhalation of respirable fibres.
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Trevor Rushton is a chartered building surveyor and chartered building engineer; he has spent most of his professional career at Watts Group and is now Chairman of the company. His career has involved the analysis and appraisal of a wide range of high-rise and low-rise buildings from housing to military establishments, commercial, transport and marine structures, both above and below ground. Trevor has specialised in building pathology and over the years has been a prolific writer and speaker on the subject. He has published two textbooks — Investigating Hazardous and Deleterious Building Materials and Investigating Defects in Commercial and Industrial Buildings. Additionally, he has edited the Watts Pocket Handbook, which has helped countless candidates through their APC. He has served on the editorial board of ISURV and the Built Environment Journal as well as the Journal of Building Appraisal; for many years he acted as county buildings adviser to Surrey County Scout Council. He has also served as an external examiner to Kingston University.