How to Identify Asbestos in Your New Zealand Home or commercial space and What to Do Next?

Unseen dangers can lurk in even the most cozy and familiar surroundings, and asbestos is among such threats.  Asbestos is a once widely used material that can cause serious health concerns if inhaled or ingested.

If your New Zealand home or commercial space was built or renovated before the 1990s, there’s a possibility it may contain asbestos.  Although asbestos is banned today, it is still found during renovation and construction projects, as it is present in many building materials and compound items.  

Asbestos is a dangerous substance still prevalent in commercial and residential spaces. It is important to take precautions by limiting asbestos exposure by contacting a licensed asbestos professional, as there is no safe level of exposure.

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So, how can you identify asbestos, and what should be your next course of action?

There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, and this article offers a comprehensive guide to help you navigate dealing with asbestos in your home or commercial space.   Asbestos cannot be identified with the naked eye, so precaution must be taken when asbestos is suspected.  

Understanding Asbestos

Before we delve into the asbestos identification process, it’s important to understand what asbestos is, where it can be found and why it can be harmful. Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals known for being strong, heat resistant, and insulating.  Because of these advantages, asbestos has been used in many building materials for decades.

By the time asbestos was identified as toxic and dangerous, it had already been widely distributed worldwide as it was a staple in the construction and manufacturing industries.  With scientific and medical research, we know that asbestos poses a severe health risk. It was not until many years later that the dangers of asbestos were revealed, and the product was removed from the market.  Asbestos exposure can cause illnesses such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung disease and other types of cancer.  Inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers can cause inflammation, scarring and cancer.   

Where to Look for Asbestos

Asbestos was a popular building material in New Zealand and worldwide between the 1940s and mid-1990s.  In 2016 the New Zealand Government banned the importation of asbestos-containing products; however, it can still be found elsewhere.  

Due to its popularity in building materials, it is not uncommon to find asbestos in kitchens, walls, ceilings, and floors.  Below is a list of places where asbestos can also be found:

  • Roofing and siding shingles
  • Cement sheets
  • Insulation (especially in homes built between 1930 – 1950)
  • Textured paint and patching compounds on wall and ceiling joints
  • Artificial ashes and embers in gas-fired fireplaces
  • Older stove-top pads
  • Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves
  • Vinyl floor tiles
  • Hot water and steam pipes coated with an asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape
  • Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets with asbestos insulation

How to Identify Asbestos

Visual inspection alone cannot identify asbestos due to its fiber-like composition. The only way to definitively identify asbestos is by having a sample of the material tested in an IANZ-accredited laboratory.

If you suspect the presence of asbestos in your home or commercial space, refrain from disturbing the area. Don’t scrape, drill, or cut into suspicious material, as this will release the fibers into the air. All asbestos should be treated with caution until proven otherwise.

Commercial and non-residential properties may have an asbestos register and management plan listing all asbestos-containing materials on site, locations, conditions, description of the material, how it is to be controlled and how it may be disturbed.  The information must be added in a timely fashion to the register as removal works are carried out and when asbestos is identified.

In a residential property, suspected asbestos must also be treated with caution.  As with commercial spaces, it is recommended that sampling be performed by a licensed asbestos professional.  This ensures that all samples are safely taken without releasing dangerous fibers into the air.  

The standard turnaround for laboratory testing is typically a few days. However, urgent testing can be performed upon request.

What to Do if You Find Asbestos

Asbestos is dangerous; two types can be found in commercial and residential properties.  

Friable asbestos can be crumbled or reduced to a powered by hand pressure as it is dry.  This type of asbestos is loose and fibrous.  Non-friable (bonded) asbestos is asbestos that is strengthened with a bonding compound.  

If the material is not damaged and does not release fibers, it might be safer to leave it undisturbed.  If you discover or suspect asbestos in your home or commercial space, the best approach is to go it alone and contact a licensed asbestos professional.   

If the asbestos-containing material is damaged or you plan to renovate, call a licensed asbestos professional to assist with an assessment and to assist them with removing the asbestos.  Only licensed asbestos removers in New Zealand can remove more than ten m² of non-friable asbestos or any amount of friable asbestos.  If you suspect a product or item may contain asbestos or is asbestos, treat it with caution until proven otherwise. Laboratory testing is required to confirm the presence of asbestos materials, and there is no known safe level of asbestos exposure.

Asbestos Removal and Disposal

Asbestos removal is a highly regulated process in New Zealand as it is a hazardous material known to be carcinogenic. Licensed asbestos removalists must follow strict procedures to minimise the release of asbestos fibers into the area. After removal works, asbestos waste must be sealed and packaged appropriately and then taken to a specified landfill that is licensed and permitted to receive asbestos waste.

It’s illegal to reuse, recycle, or illegally dump asbestos products.

Summing Up

Asbestos can be a significant concern for homeowners and property owners.  Asbestos is particularly a concern when a commercial or residential property is of age.  Knowing the risks is the first step when dealing with asbestos.  Knowing where to look and what to do if you believe you have found asbestos is important.  Always remember, if in doubt, that the best course of action is to contact a licensed asbestos professional to ensure the safety of you and your family and workers.

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