The Dangers of Asbestos

What is asbestos and why was it used?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral made up of many, small, extremely strong fibres. It was a popular additive in building materials because it was super strong and highly resistant to heat, fire, chemicals and general wear and tear.

Where was asbestos used?

Asbestos was really popular for:

  • Building products such as sheet cladding, roofing, siding, decramastic roof tiles, insulation board used on walls and floors for thermal protection (eg around fires), lagging for insulation around pipes, heaters and hot water cylinders, it was even used on textured ceilings and sprayed-on wall surfaces.

  • Plumbing products such as drainage pipes, spouting and guttering components.

  • Internal products such as vinyl and linoleums.

It was also used in textiles, oven gloves, ironing board pads and fire blankets and between 1930 and 1950 it was used as insulation.

The Queensland Government page has a good gallery of asbestos/ACM images to give you an idea of what to look out for in your own home.

When did we stop using asbestos?

We mainly imported and used asbestos in New Zealand between 1950 and 1980, however it was not officially banned until 2016. Products and appliances that contain asbestos are still around, and houses built or renovated pre-2000 are considered quite likely to contain some asbestos. 

How dangerous is asbestos?

Asbestos is dangerous when the fibres are released and inhaled into your lungs. They can get trapped and build up over time causing several lung-related diseases. Fibres are only released when they are disturbed, eg by:

  • Cutting or drilling through asbestos-cement materials (eg sheet cladding)

  • Sanding down an asbestos-containing surface

  • Lifting lino or tiles during renovations or repairs

  • Natural disasters shifting or cracking asbestos-containing materials or products

  • Wear and tear

You can also be exposed to asbestos by inhaling fibres off clothes worn by someone who has been in contact with asbestos-containing material, or just by living or working near asbestos-related activities.

Friable asbestos is the type of asbestos that crumbles easily when handled. This is the most dangerous as it is more likely to release fibres into the air, and it is highly recommended that you get an asbestos specialist to test and remove any friable asbestos.

In 2016 New Zealand introduced Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations to minimise our risk of exposure to asbestos. As a homeowner, you and your contractors have to follow this legislation if you are getting work or repairs done on your asbestos-containing home. As a landlord, you have a duty to identify asbestos and prepare an asbestos management plan for work involving a risk of exposure to asbestos fibres.

How can you tell if you have asbestos?

It’s not an easy thing to detect. A sample tested in an approved analytical laboratory is the only way to find out for certain if a material contains asbestos or not.

When & What to Test

If you have building materials within your house that you suspect might contain asbestos and it has seen better days or you are planning DIY renovations that will disturb it, then an asbestos test is recommended so that any asbestos can then be handled appropriately. 

The Asbestos (ACM) Test Kit is designed for Non-Friable Class B Asbestos only - material that cannot be crushed or broken by hand. Common Class B Asbestos materials include vinyl flooring and fibre cement board commonly found in baseboards, soffits and gable ends.

If you have friable material - loose fibrous or soft-bonded material that can be crushed or broken by hand, that you suspect contains asbestos, then a licensed asbestos surveyor should undertake the sampling as it is not safe to test it yourself. Common Class A Asbestos materials include insulation and textured / popcorn ceilings in poor condition.

How do I test it?

If you are confident to take a sample yourself, you need safety instructions and full PPE. You can get your DIY Asbestos (ACM) Test Kit here and a PPE Kit here.

If you need specialist help identifying or managing asbestos, have friable asbestos or need to create an Asbestos Management Plan, you need to engage a licensed asbestos surveyor or removalist.

Can it get into the soil too?

If you have had people remove asbestos who didn't follow the strict safety protocols needed when removing or storing asbestos containing materials and products, the soil around your home may contain asbestos too. It can also happen simply because an asbestos-containing roof or wall cladding is deteriorating and the fibres are being released that way. If you suspect asbestos in your soil, we have Asbestos Soil Testing Kits available here

Additional Information

For more information about asbestos, click on the following links: