Asbestos is a building material that used to be used regularly in construction throughout the world. It was popular due to its fire-resistant properties, its insulation qualities, and its ability to protect against corrosion. This naturally made it a go-to material on building sites for many years. However, asbestos was banned in New Zealand in the early 1980s, when it was discovered that exposure to asbestos dust—the small fine particles the material sheds as it ages or when it’s disturbed—can lead to serious health issues.
Sadly, due to the fact it was used so extensively, there are still plenty of buildings in New Zealand that have asbestos in them. Due to this, it’s important to learn how to spot asbestos in different circumstances and what to do about it if you find it.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring fibrous silicate minerals that are resistant to fire and corrosion. There are six types of asbestos, all of which are made of long and thin fibrous crystals. Each fibre is made up of many fibrils—miniature fibres that can be released into the atmosphere through abrasion or disruption. If you breathe these in, it can cause several debilitating and life-threatening lung conditions including asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer.
How to spot Asbestos
Unfortunately, many different products from the past contain asbestos and as such, it can take on many guises.
In its most basic form—before it is applied or used for any purpose—asbestos is either grey, greyish blue or greyish brown. It often has a fluffy appearance and comes in loose clumps. These clumps can separate into thin strands which are made up of thousands of microscopic asbestos fibres. If these are dislodged, they can easily be inhaled.
Asbestos is often identified by its different colours.
Crocidolite Asbestos: This form is light blue and is made up of long thin fibres. This type of asbestos is the most dangerous to human health.
Amosite Asbestos: This is brown and is the most likely variant to cause cancer. Many building materials from the early 20th Century used this kind of asbestos.
Chrysotile Asbestos: This is white and has curly fibres. When used in materials, these fibres are often layered. Again, this is a very common form of asbestos and can be found in numerous kinds of building materials.
Asbestos can come as friable and non-friable. The non-friable variety is more stable and doesn’t release particles so easily. Friable asbestos is easily disturbed and crumbles under a small amount of pressure.
Where to find Asbestos
Many residential and commercial buildings contained asbestos if they were built before 1984. As such, if you are in a building built before that time, you need to take particular care. If you are in any doubt, it’s best to call out asbestos removal contractors. However, here are just some of the places you may find it:
- Sprayed on walls, beams, ceilings, and columns.
- Roof tiles are normally marked to indicate they contain asbestos. However, only every second tile was marked, so make sure you check a few.
- In lagging and insulation that’s wrapped around boilers, pipes, cement water tanks, fire blankets, etc. This insulation comes in two types—Vermiculite insulation and asbestos pipe insulation. Vermiculite insulation is a loose-fill asbestos and because it’s uncontained and easily disturbed, it’s particularly dangerous. Vermiculite often looks like silver or brown pebbles. Meanwhile, asbestos pipe insulation looks a little like white or silver corrugated cardboard.
- Vinyl floor tiles often contain asbestos, as can old toilet seats and cisterns. If the tiles seem a little thicker than normal or have an oily discolouration to them, this could indicate asbestos. If they are stuck down with black mastic, this could also mean it’s present.
- Asbestos water tanks are hard to identify and as such, it’s important you call out asbestos removal contractors to ensure your tank doesn’t contain it.
- Asbestos insulating boards (AIB) were popular in old properties. These were used in interior walls, ceiling tiles, around boilers, in fire doors, around fuse boxes or in airing cupboards. They could also be found in soffits.
As you can see, there are a lot of places to consider when checking for asbestos.
What should you do if you find Asbestos?
You should call out asbestos removal contractors if you think you have found asbestos. They can analyse it for you, confirm if your assumptions are correct, and then advise you on what to do about it.
If you need asbestos removal contractors then please get in touch. We will safely remove the product from your building and leave you feeling safe and reassured.