Asbestos is a natural mineral that has been used for industrial applications for the last 1900 years - Yes, 1900 years, ever since the Greeks in the first century discovered asbestos and started to use it for purposes such as heat insulation.
The asbestos fibres are very strong and are 100 to 200 times thinner than a human hair, so you can see what you're up against trying to visibly see if you have asbestos in your home.
Generally it is agreed that that asbestos in plaster is quite safe unless it's disturbed and then you will understand how easy it is to inhale the virtually invisible asbestos fibres. Once inhaled they will stick to your lung wall and can ultimately generate disease and then terminal lung cancer known as Mesothelium.
Asbestos in plaster can be defined into two types - either loosely bound fibre or firmly bound fibre:
For firmly bound asbestos fibres generally these products were made for domestic use in the 1970's and before: (Today, cellulose fibres have replaced asbestos fibres)
Water or flue pipes
Vinyl floor tiles
The backing of vinyl floor coverings
Flexible building boards
Flat or corrugated sheeting
Plaster ceiling tiles
Plaster acoustic ceiling tiles
Loosely bound Fibres:
Loosely bound asbestos in plaster fibres are also termed 'friable' and were used mainly in older houses for insulation within heaters and stoves. Since asbestos has been off the market, glass fibres have replaced them within insulation products.
What should I do if I identify asbestos in my house?
If the panels or tiles or whatever asbestos you may find is in good condition and painted you really have no reason to fear it as long as it's left alone and not disturbed. If you have asbestos panels outside for cladding, likewise, if they are not broken and painted, no reason to worry. However, if you do have broken panels then they should be replaced. This can be undertaken by professionals, or, yourself if you want to but only if you have the proper protective equipment and they are thoroughly watered down to stop any microscopic fibres from becoming airborne and they are carefully disposed of so not to conflict danger on others as well.
So, if you do have asbestos, it really is better just to keep it where it is, if it's not disturbed because it's a highly skilled and expensive job disposing of it and it really is perfectly safe unless you are remodeling your home, office or factory.