Finding the facts about asbestos can be harder than you think. While there’s plenty of information online - and almost everyone in New Zealand is aware of the health risks asbestos can pose - uncovering asbestos facts isn’t easy.
At Chemcare, our team has years of experience working with asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) and helping everyday Kiwi homeowners and businesses either encapsulate asbestos in their home or remove it entirely.
To help you discover the reality behind asbestos, we’d like to share some interesting facts about the common mineral. Read on to find out more.
There are several types of asbestos minerals
Undoubtedly, you already know that asbestos can be dangerous. But what exactly is it, and how many different types of the mineral exist today?
Asbestos can refer to six individual mineral types, from the incredibly common to some you may never come in contact with.
The most common kind of asbestos: Chrysotile or white asbestos
● Most commonly used type of asbestos in Kiwi homes.
● Will often be found in roofs, asbestos ceilings, walls and floors.
● Has been utilised in car brake linings, plumbing insulation, and boilers.
The second-most common: Amosite or brown asbestos
● Often found in pipe insulation and cement sheets.
● Was regularly used when making ceiling tiles, boards for insulation, and in thermal insulation materials.
● Has needle-like fibres with a similar appearance to a bundle of matchsticks.
Crocidolite or blue asbestos
● The least heat-resistant of all asbestos types.
● Uncommon in New Zealand but mined in Australia, South Africa, and Bolivia
● Most often used for insulating steam engines, in some spray-on coatings, as well as pipe insulation and cement products.
While these are the three main types of asbestos, more variations can be found - as a contaminant - in the most common types above.
● Not very flexible, and therefore used sparingly in the past.
● Little use commercially but still found as a contaminant in some asbestos materials.
● Quite rare as this type of asbestos is not used commercially.
● Often found as a contaminant in chrysotile asbestos (the most common type of asbestos), and in some talcum powders.
● Appearance can vary from white, grey, green or even see-through.
● Not used commercially.
● Most common as a contaminant in composite flooring.
Now that we’ve covered the different kinds of asbestos you may encounter, let’s look at some sobering facts about asbestos in the home and the potential dangers it can cause.
1) Breathing asbestos fibres can cause them to lodge in your lungs
When asbestos fibres enter the air of a building or home, it becomes breathable. If anyone inhales these asbestos fibers, they can become lodged deep within the lungs indefinitely. This can quickly cause inflammation and scarring, which in turn will affect breathing and gradually lead to serious illness such as lung cancer.
2) There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos
Individuals are more likely to experience illness or develop health issues when they are regularly exposed to high concentrations of asbestos. However, many government agencies say there is no safe level of asbestos exposure - health problems can develop many years after any amount of time breathing in asbestos.
3) Asbestos-related illness doesn’t start with mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is the most widely known affliction caused by asbestos exposure. However, before this appears, pleural effusion - fluid around the lungs - can occur. This causes the lining of the lung to thicken, resulting in plaque and calcification. This is known to be an early symptom of more worrying illnesses.
4) Smoke can exacerbate the risks
We’re all aware of how smoking can harm the body. It may sound obvious, but combining smoking with asbestos exposure increases the likelihood of lung cancer developing.
This is quite common with U.S Navy veterans, generally heavy smokers who worked in or around factories that created ACMs, and construction workers, who perhaps smoked on the job while installing ACMs in home insulation.
5) Asbestos is still mined across the world to date
Despite the many dangers known about asbestos - not to mention its total ban from use as a building material here in New Zealand - you may be surprised to know asbestos is still mined around the world. You’ll find asbestos mining in Russia, China, Brazil, and Kazakhstan. Even Canada was mining the naturally occuring mineral until 2011.
6) How long has asbestos been used for? Centuries!
As early 2,500 B.C, asbestos fibres were used to strengthen ceramics. The material was mixed with clay to much success, and was later seen as a ‘magic’ material by the Greeks and Romans due to its fire-resistant properties.
It wasn’t until the mid-1800s, however, that the asbestos industry found large-scale production, when the Johns Company in New York opened mining operations to acquire asbestos for insulation purposes.
7) Asbestos toothpaste?
In the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, asbestos was used to make a fake snow product that would become a popular christmas decoration. It was famously used in The Wizard of Oz, and was also a common addition to cigarettes filters. Due to its abrasive, fibrous quality, you’ll be most surprised of all to hear that asbestos used to be an ingredient in household toothpaste!
Managing the dangers of asbestos are easy with expert help
Now that you know the facts behind asbestos, and the dangerous it can present, you might be wondering about how you can ensure your own home is safe. If you’re concerned about the presence of asbestos in your property, taking an asbestos material sample from your roof or wall insulation can clear up your concerns.
Once your sample has been analysed by a lab specialist, you can then decide on next steps. If your home is found to contain asbestos, there are a number of options available - depending on the integrity of the sample materials themselves. Encapsulation is one reliable option, which prevents any asbestos fibres from entering the breathable air of your home or business. Otherwise, you can opt for full asbestos removal - while a lengthier and more intrusive process, you’ll know your building is safe well into the distant future.
If you have any concerns about asbestos in your home, or want to speak to the expert team at Chemcare about how to take an asbestos sample, contact our specialists today.