Asbestos was once hailed as a “miracle mineral” for its heat resistance and insulating properties. As such, it was widely used in building materials until the mid-1990s. With medical and scientific research, we know that inhaling and ingesting asbestos fibers can cause serious health problems, including lung disease and cancer. If your home or commercial space was built before 1990, it may contain asbestos. But how can you identify it, and what steps should you take for its safe removal? This article provides a guide to help you navigate these concerns.
Understanding the Presence of Asbestos in Older Homes
From the 1940s to the mid-1990s, asbestos was commonly used in building houses and commercial spaces in New Zealand and worldwide. It was used in many products, including roofing materials, siding, insulation, floor tiles, and even textured paints. However, it’s important to note that the mere presence of asbestos in your space does not necessarily mean you are at risk. Asbestos is most dangerous when disturbed, releasing tiny fibers that can be inhaled into the air.
If you’re considering undertaking a renovation project on your older building, consider asbestos. Avoid creating dust by not cutting, drilling, sanding, sawing, or using high-pressure equipment like water or air. Contacting a competent, licensed asbestos removalist to do any work related to asbestos-containing products is always recommended.
Identifying Asbestos in Your Home or commercial space
Identifying asbestos in your home or retail space can be challenging. Asbestos is not visible and is often mixed with other building materials. Certain areas and materials in homes built before 1990 are more likely to contain asbestos, and these may include but are not limited to the following:
- Insulation, particularly in houses built between 1930 and 1950
- Textured paint and patching compounds used on wall and ceiling joints
- Vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring
- Adhesives used for installing floor tiles
- Heat-resistant fabrics
- Some types of window caulking and weather stripping
- Roofing and siding shingles
- Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves
It’s impossible to identify asbestos by looking at it, so laboratory testing is required to confirm the presence of asbestos. The laboratory can use a small sample to ensure a sample material contains asbestos.
What to Do if You Suspect Asbestos in Your Home or commercial space
If you suspect your home or commercial space contains asbestos, it’s crucial not to disturb the material. Don’t cut, drill, or scrape anything you believe may contain asbestos. If the material is in good condition and unlikely to be disturbed, leaving it in place is usually safer until a professional can safely remove it.
If you’re planning any renovation or demolition work or believe the area may become accidentally disturbed, a licensed asbestos professional should be contacted as soon as possible. If the material is already upset, broken or damaged, a licensed asbestos professional should be contacted to assist with safely removing the asbestos. In New Zealand, only licensed professionals can remove more than ten m² of non-friable asbestos or any amount of friable asbestos. It is always recommended that a competent, licensed asbestos removalist perform works relating to asbestos removal products.
The Asbestos Removal Process
Asbestos removal is a complex process that involves:
- Have nationally recognised training to remove asbestos safely.
- Isolating the area to prevent asbestos fibers from spreading to other parts of the house or commercial space
- Wearing specialised protective clothing (PPE) specific to the removal of asbestos, including a respirator that can filter out asbestos fibers
- Using specialised tools combined with asbestos-specific training to avoid creating dust
- Wetting down surfaces to keep fibers from becoming airborne
- Safely wrapping and disposing of asbestos waste in designated landfills
Once the asbestos removal is complete, an independent licensed asbestos assessor must conduct an air monitoring and visual inspection to confirm that the area is safe for reoccupation.
Asbestos in homes and commercial spaces built before 1990 is a serious concern. Understanding how to identify asbestos and what to do if you suspect asbestos can greatly reduce the potential health risks. Remember, if in doubt, always consult a licensed asbestos professional. This consultation will ensure the safety of your home or commercial environment, as safe asbestos management is essential for preserving both the value of your property and your family’s health.