Asbestos is a proven human carcinogen, and all forms of asbestos can cause cancer
Asbestos causes cancer in a dose-dependent manner. The greater the exposure, and the longer the time of exposure, the greater the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.
No ‘safe’ lower limit of exposure has been identified with certainty – all exposure is thought to add to the overall risk of disease development – but the risk from a single, low-level exposure is considered to be extremely low.
Diseases related to asbestos
Inhaling significant quantities of airborne asbestos causes:
- asbestosis (scarring of lung tissue)
- mesothelioma (malignant tumours, cancers that develop around the lungs or intestine)
- pleural plaques (thickening of membranes around the lungs)
- cancer of the lung, larynx and ovary.
What’s the deal with Asbestos and my property?
Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) homeowners, landlords (and Property Managers) must ensure that, when work is carried out at their property, it is done safely and without endangering workers or others, including tenants. Landlords (and PM’s) must identify asbestos in the workplace and document plans for managing its risks in an asbestos management plan, if there is risk of exposure to respirable asbestos fibres.
What are the risks involved with non-compliance?
There are significant fines in place where a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) is prosecuted for failing to honour their obligations and these can be placed on both an individual and business.
- Penalties range from $50K-$3M in Fines, with up to 5yrs Prison (Sections 47,48 & 49)
The Proactive vs Reactive Approach
- Proactively have properties surveyed, and if needed have asbestos managed or removed.
- Wait until refurbishment/building work is needed and the have the property surveyed at that point (any work involving a risk of exposure to respirable asbestos fibres).
Not all Surveys & Consultants are created equal
- Don’t work with providers who cant demonstrate BOHS IP402 or IP404 qualifications, with appropriate experience and supervision.
- Have no-conflict of interest (don’t provide consulting & removal services)
- Providers should have comprehensive Asbestos Specific Insurances
- Consultants (and PCBU’s) must have samples analysed by an Accredited Laboratory (IANZ or WorkSafe Approved equivalent)
Where might you find Asbestos?
Asbestos-containing products (ACM) can be found in lots of places, as the picture below shows. You might find it in vinyl flooring, interior and exterior wall cladding and soffits, fences, texture coatings, fireplaces, stoves, hot water cupboards, electrical switchboards, roofs, guttering and downpipes. The list goes on!
Frequently Asked Questions
- Asbestos is a category of minerals which form fibres in their natural state.
- This makes them very useful for building with as they add incredible strength to a wide range of building products.
- From 1870 onwards, asbestos minerals were extensively mined. Between 1950 to1980, they were a part of the construction of almost every building.
- Asbestos minerals have a wide range of properties which make them great for building (fire resistance, acid and base resistance and high tensile strength).
- They are cheap to mine and transport and are still widely used in 1/3 of the world today.
- As the NZ government only passed legislation outright banning asbestos in use for construction in 2016.
- Asbestos products have still been found in houses as young as 2008 in NZ.
- Because asbestos is a fibre in its natural form, it was often combined with cement which can hide the fibrous characteristics from sight. This means that it can be difficult to identify by just sight alone.
- Common visual evidence of asbestos includes a characteristic grey-white colour material which is rough to the touch and appears as to be made from multiple layers.
- However, the asbestos-containing material (ACM) can often be painted or covered by sealer of some kind. A typical example is the textured ceiling which contains asbestos fibres to make the ceiling fire resistant.
- Unfortunately, asbestos can be added to just about anything and requires experience and knowledge of the building history of NZ to identify without tests.
- In these cases, taking a sample of the substance and sending it to the lab to be analysed is highly recommended.
- By far the most common form of asbestos used in the world is the crystolite (white) type which is highly flexible and forms long white strands.
- These are typically added to other products to make them stronger, but in their pure form are woven into a form of textile.
- These textiles were often used in NZ as a type of asbestos “paper” which was layered beneath lino and vinyl tiles as a heat and moisture insulation.
- Bonded asbestos has been molded with other forms of adhesives or cements, with the asbestos fibres being used for its strong structure, similar to steel in reinforced concrete.
- In this case, the asbestos is often not visible to the naked eye. A sample of the ACM would have to be taken and tested by a lab to confirm its presence.
- Friable asbestos is asbestos which can crumble easily. This is typical of old water pipes or building cladding/roofs (often old garages and sheds). Other locations could be as a form of asbestos sprayed onto the inside of walls for fire resistant properties.
- Other common forms of friable asbestos is as heat insulation underneath lino flooring, which will create much dust when disturbed.
- In their ACM form, asbestos will remain non-toxic if undisturbed. The danger comes when damage, renovations, alterations or removal of walls occurs.
- The fibres are intentionally locked up inside the panelling so as to retain structural integrity, but when cut into, the asbestos fibres are shattered and broken into tiny fragments.
- These fragments are released into the air and become dust particles suspended in air. This is where the health risk comes in, as the dust fragments have jagged edges which get stuck in the soft tissues of our breathing system.
- This can lead to lung irritation, mesothelioma, disease and cancer, ultimately leading to death.
- Anyone with training in either class A (small quantity) or class B (large quantity) asbestos removal can perform the act of removing asbestos, as long as they follow the necessary steps and safety measures.
- Asbestos is removed in the process where the asbestos-containing area is isolated from the rest of the house or surroundings in an air-tight enclosure to prevent dust from spreading to other areas.
- This technique is needed for removing large quantities of asbestos (class B) and is not recommended to be completed by anyone without appropriate training.
- Removal of smaller quantities of asbestos can be done by someone following the guidelines laid out in the Approved Code of Practice for Management and Removal of Asbestos from WorkSafe NZ.
- This requires you to wear protective equipment, ensure that no dust is spread to other areas and that all ACM and asbestos is disposed of correctly using sealable bags.
- On the off chance that asbestos was used in the majority of the elements of your house, then you could indeed need to have the entire house gutted of asbestos or ACM.
- This process is painstakingly precise as it is not considered to be demolition of the property, but the management and removal of asbestos. This requires professionals to not only identify all asbestos and ACMs in the property but come up with a suitable management plan to extract all the suspect materials safely.
- More often than not, however, asbestos and ACM’s are isolated to specific regions of the house (ceilings, in-wall linings or roofing etc) which can be easily identified and removed with minimal damage to the remaining structure.
- Asbestos is toxic to you indeed, but the largest danger comes when it is breathed in as a fine dust. This leads to the asbestos latching onto our lung and throat tissues, damaging them and exposing the tissues to carcinogenic effects from some of the contents of the mineral.
This kind of exposure will cause asbestosis (lung disease), asthma, severe cough and death.
- Asbestos is not toxic in the regular sense in that it does not poison you. The issues arise more from the physical effects of the asbestos fibers within the lungs.
- Asbestosis is actually caused by your lungs self-defence mechanisms attacking the particles in the lungs, which unfortunately are unable to be dissolved.
- When the lung self-defence mechanism is unable to break the asbestos down, it ends up releasing the chemicals it was using to try break down the asbestos. These chemicals end up damaging the lung tissues and leading to permanent scars forming on the lungs.
- This occurs slowly over many years of exposure and hence is less common today.
- The other forms, such as mesothelioma and related cancers, can occur much quicker and are still highly prevalent today.
- Asbestos is used very often for its structural integrity and fire resistance properties.
- This means it can often be found in wall panelling (internal and external), cladding of buildings, under carpets and tiles as heat and moisture insulation, in fire blankets and doors, heat insulation for boilers and steel framing of buildings.
- Insulation of pipes, connections between pipes, fuse boxes as electrical insulators, floor tiles, sprayed coatings on ceilings and walls, textured coatings on ceilings and walls, loose asbestos used as heat and sound protection in cavities, asbestos panels used as sound insulation.
- Various other small panels of asbestos containing materials (ACM’s) are found throughout the house in locations where at the time, the properties of the ACM made it the best possible option for the job.