What can be done after exposure to asbestos?

What can be done after exposure to asbestos?

The best advice to anybody who finds he or she has been exposed to asbestos is first, to remain calm.

The next step is to  investigate and decide on a plan of action. The points here will help people who find themselves in this situation.

There are steps that can be taken to mitigate the effects of any level of exposure to asbestos.

The  chance of any New Zealander becoming exposed to asbestos will remain for the next century or more because of the volume of asbestos materials which exist in the country’s buildings and civil construction networks.

Much of this asbestos is safely contained within solid building materials and only becomes dangerous to human or animal health when it is disturbed in some way, and microscopic asbestos fibres are released into the atmosphere. At that point, the fibres can be inhaled and the result can be declining health and death many years after that moment of inhalation.

The New Zealand Ministry of Health has introduced another stage of regulations to keep people as safe as possible; from April 2018, all non residential building owners must have a long term “asbestos management plan.” This is a national effort to give people in any place, protection from asbestos inhalation.

But what are the chances that some people will still become exposed? Right now, the New Zealand annual fatality rate from asbestos-related illness, is about 170 people a year. New regulations are dedicated to reducing this and if possible, down to zero fatalities.

So what are the chances of inhaling asbestos fibres in any location?

Because asbestos fibres are very light and because of their shape they can float in the air for long periods of time. It can take between 48 and 72 hours (2-3 full days),  for asbestos fibres to fall in a still room. In a room with air currents, these fibres may stay in the air much longer.

There is no "safe" level of asbestos exposure.

So any exposure situation, no matter how short or fleeting, is worth full attention to ensure there has been no intake of fibres into the body.

Asbestos is so microscopic that there is no indication that it is in the air or when it enters the lungs. It is too small to see, feel or taste.

There is evidence from around the world which suggests that illness eventuates more from longer term exposure and not so much from small one-off events. But natural self preservation instincts encourage most people to get themselves checked out even in very short incidents of exposure.

Illnesses related to asbestos exposure can take a long time to develop. The time between first exposure to asbestos and diagnosis of “mesothelioma” is usually between 20 and 50 years.

Unfortunately, the risk of mesothelioma does not go down over time after the exposure to asbestos stops. The risk appears to be lifelong.

The chest x-ray is currently the most common tool used to detect asbestos-related diseases.


Although chest x-rays cannot detect asbestos fibres in the lungs, they can help identify any early signs of lung disease resulting from asbestos exposure. 

A lung biopsy, which detects microscopic asbestos fibres in pieces of lung tissue removed by surgery, is the most reliable test to confirm exposure to asbestos


A bronchoscopy is a less invasive test than a biopsy and detects asbestos fibres in material that is rinsed out of the lungs . It is important to note that these procedures cannot determine how much asbestos an individual may have been exposed to or whether disease will develop.


Asbestos fibres can also be detected in urine, mucus, and faeces, but these tests are not reliable for determining how much asbestos may be in an individual’s lungs.


There is no surgery that can eliminate mesothelioma risk after asbestos exposure. But that’s not to say that several proactive steps cannot be taken to protect future health.

Internationally, awareness of asbestos, research into prevention of diseases caused by asbestos fibre and treatment of those diseases, continues in many countries.

For people who find that they have been exposed to asbestos, the extent and seriousness of resulting  illness will depend on many factors such as the person’s own natural immune system, how early medical attention has been sought and the progress of medical science over future years, to  combat asbestos-induced illnesses.

To avoid exposure in the first place, it’s important to get an asbestos survey in an area you might run the risk of disturbing asbestos fibres. Chemcare can help you through this process. Get in contact today.

6 common asbestos myths busted

6 common asbestos myths busted

There’s a lot of dangerous misinformation concerning asbestos in New Zealand. We’ve busted 6 common asbestos myths to help clear the air.

The fire might be out, but asbestos may still linger.

The fire might be out, but asbestos may still linger.

Flames licking at materials which contain asbestos, can release plenty of asbestos fibres into the atmosphere.

While asbestos materials might be stable and solid in day to day calmness, a fire can be like a tornado or any other natural force that breaks and snaps at the materials, sending fibres into the air. This creates dangers for fire fighters and anybody else for many days after the fire might have been extinguished.

In a normal still room, asbestos fibres are so light that they can take up to three days before they fall to ground. Asbestos fibres are so microscopic that any living species can breathe them into their lungs without sensing any reaction. Once lodged in lung tissue, the carcinogenic effects can take years to evolve. But incurable illnesses such as mesothelioma or asbestosis usually result.

During a fire, building materials that contain asbestos will typically crack or ”spall.” Spalling occurs when flakes of the material pop off due to the build up of pressure inside the material. Monitoring of air during and after fires has indicated that asbestos fibre concentrations typically are very low. This is likely to be due to the low numbers of fibres actually being released, and the large volumes of air circulated by fires, sweeping the fibres further away from the building. This means the internal environment could be potentially less hazardous compared to the outer area of the property.

On a safer note, asbestos fibres can also become “denatured” when exposed to high temperatures for a sufficient period of time. The recognised melting point for asbestos fibres, is 1500 degrees C. This is a little higher than the recognised melting point for steel. Fires in buildings can reach these temperatures. Steel beams, unless insulated – often with asbestos sheeting, have been known to weaken and collapse because of a fire’s temperature. The Twin Towers collapse in the USA is believed by some, to have been caused by aluminium framing being weakened by heat. Aluminium melts at only 630 degrees C.

Heat up to its melting point, changes the chemical structure of asbestos. Asbestos, despite its unusual, fibrous character, is actually a naturally occurring rock. Heat can return it to magma. This means the asbestos fibres lose their asbestos qualities and no longer pose the same level of health risk.

But fires have also been known to release large amounts of asbestos dust in a damaged building. Water form fire fighting appliances can help to prevent asbestos dust from accumulating in the atmosphere, but only for the duration of the hoses in actions and while the surfaces of the burning structure remain wet. There is little evidence of how much or how long, watering reduces the danger of asbestos dust.

Asbestos when exposed to fire can become brittle and breakable and more likely to allow fibres into the air. For this reason, fire is sometimes considered more dangerous as an asbestos damaging catalyst compared to building weathering. So while asbestos is one of the most heat-resistant substances known to man and was put to good use for fire protection, the same material can be highly toxic when it is confronted by fire.

Professional fire fighters are well trained in how to avoid the dangers of asbestos released during fires. It is no coincidence that trained asbestos removal staff are fully protected in a similar way to fire fighters. Removing burnt asbestos materials is not a task recommended for the untrained property owner.

Licensed companies such as Chemcare, with qualified Class A removal experts can undertake the work safely and always under the further safety check an independent assessor.

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Can asbestos stick to your clothes? Can you get rid of it?

Can asbestos stick to your clothes? Can you get rid of it?

Asbestos is essentially a form of natural rock.

The difference is that this rock can become “friable,” (crumble into almost microscopic fibres) that are so light they can float in air and be breathed into lungs without any hint of an objecting cough.

There, the fibres sit for many years and eventually cause serious illness and in many cases, death.

The fibres can easily become lodged in clothing depending on the type of clothing. Woollen garments will obviously hold microscopic asbestos fibres much more efficiently than smooth rubber or plastic clothing. Even human skin with fine hairs can trap the asbestos fibres.

Once trapped in clothing, any opportunity for the asbestos fibres to become airborne and ingested into the body of the wearer of the clothing or nearby people, becomes a permanent risk.

The safest remedy is to carefully de-clothe and dispose of the clothing altogether. This eliminates the risk of ingesting the fibres.

Any attempt to remove asbestos off clothing  should avoid trying to “dust” it off. This is about as safe as dusting the fibres into the air to make them easier to breathe in and start the long process of serious illness.

Shaking the clothes is an equally bad choice with potentially fatal results.

If the clothing is valued, the best way is to hand the material over to an expert removal service.

There are many licensed asbestos sampling and removal companies in New Zealand.

Avoid a standard dry cleaning process unless the service can produce the appropriate asbestos sampling and removal licences. Without this expertise, the fibres may potentially endanger more people via the dry cleaning premises.

If clothes are washed through the home washing machine, there is no guarantee that all of the asbestos fibres will drain into the waste water. The durability of the fibres and their resilience for survival may also see them arrive through the waste water system to endanger lives in some other place.

A washing machine cycle may also simply transfer the fibres to other clothing in the cycle.

To conduct the cleaning process, it is important to inform the person in charge about the contamination. The area must be secured and it must be seen to it that there is a control in the release of the fibres.

The safest option for asbestos-contaminated clothes is disposal by a licensed service. If the value of the clothing becomes a factor, this needs to be assessed against the risk to human life, especially the life of the owner of the clothing.

If it becomes a personal responsibility to dispose of asbestos contaminated clothing, thoroughly wet it and place in impermeable containers. The clothing should not be allowed to dry until it is taken to any laundering facility. The container should be labelled to indicate the presence of asbestos. Once in the laundry facility, observe the measures stated earlier to secure the area from contamination as well. The person handling the laundry should also wear proper clothing.

Once the entire process is done, the now-empty container bags used in storing the asbestos-contaminated clothing should be disposed of properly.

The water used to remove asbestos from the clothing should also pass through filtration process to screen out the asbestos and prevent it from contaminating bodies of water and its surroundings

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