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