Asbestos Testing New Zealand

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Asbestos is the name used for a group of natural minerals that are made up of many small fibres. These fibres are very strong and are highly resistant to heat, fire, chemicals, and wear due to friction.

Asbestos was mainly imported and used before the 1980s. Once the health risks of asbestos were known, its use was gradually stopped, and other materials used instead. However, products and appliances with asbestos content may still be around, particularly in homes built before 1984.

Asbestos is a risk to health only when it is inhaled as fine dust. The risk to health increases with the number of fibres inhaled and with frequency of exposure.

How will you be affected if there is asbestos in your home?

Exposure levels indoors depends on asbestos type and its condition. Constant exposure to crumbly or powdery (friable), damaged, exposed, or poorly maintained asbestos materials may increase the health risk.

Generally, asbestos-containing materials that are in good condition will not release asbestos fibres. There is no danger unless fibres are released and inhaled into lungs. The risk from exposure to asbestos in the non-occupational setting is considered to be low since the concentrations of asbestos fibres are low.

The number of fibres that are released depends on:

* the percentage of asbestos in the material

* the way it is handled, used or worked on

* how tightly the fibres are bound

* the degree of damage or wear.

How to tell if a suspect material contains asbestos

Testing a sample in an approved analytical laboratory is the only way to find out if a material contains asbestos.

If you need to get a sample tested, contact a health protection officer at the public health unit of your local District Health Board (DHB). They will tell you what to do. Do not obtain a sample without consulting them first.

What should you do if asbestos is in your home?

If there is asbestos or ACM (confirmed by laboratory analysis) in your home, you should talk with your health protection officer about:

leaving it as it is, disturbing it as little as possible

sealing, encapsulating or enclosing it

removing it.

ACM on decorative ceilings, walls or flooring is not likely to be a health risk unless it is damaged, deteriorating or crumbly. If the ACM is poorly bonded, damaged or deteriorating, fibres may be released into the air. This ACM should be sealed, encapsulated, enclosed or removed.

Sealing is done by applying paint to the surface. When hardened this stops the release of loose asbestos dust.

Encapsulation is when ACM is coated with a material that soaks through the ACM and hardens, stopping the release of loose asbestos fibres.

Enclosing is when a construction is placed around the ACM (like a false wall) to contain the asbestos.

Contact a health protection officer at your local District Health Board (DHB) if you think you might have asbestos in your home. They will advise you.

External cladding (including roof tiles made of asbestos) should not cause any concern if not damaged. Even if the cladding is deteriorating, the Ministry of Health advises that the cladding should be sealed rather than removed or replaced. The process of removal will disturb the asbestos, releasing high-risk concentrations of fibres into the air, endangering the health of everyone in the locality. If left in place, the amount of fibres released is not considered to be a health risk. However, if you have asbestos-containing roofing, be aware that the ceiling space under the roof may have high concentrations of asbestos dust, particularly if the roofing is weathered and brittle.

The use of an approved commercial sealant may stop the release of fibres. Both water-based (emulsion) coatings and solvent-based coatings may be used. They can be pigmented or clear. Not all paint and surface coatings are suitable. Some may increase fire risks, so you should consult the paint manufacturer to find out more about the suitability of the product.

Do not use powered tools or high-pressure water blasting on external cladding as this will release large amounts of fibres, which are a health risk when they dry.

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