Anybody with a passing interest in building materials has some understanding of asbestos and its history of use in many different types of building materials.
Today, however, asbestos is a “demon” to be progressively eradicated from any contact with humans.
It is now well documented as a potential killer.
Statistics offered last year by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) to Chemcare, a nationally licensed asbestos removal company, indicated that claims for illnesses related to asbestos exposure amounted to about 350 per year between 2013 and 2018. Of these, new claims exceeded 100 annually.
Because asbestos-related illnesses take time to reveal themselves- sometimes years after the microscopic fibres have been inhaled- claims are expected to continue for some years.
Claims, however, are expected to start declining at some future point, given that regulations came into effect in 2000 which banned the use of any building materials containing asbestos.
However, Chemcare advises that from the company’s enquiries among the larger Councils of New Zealand, there remain millions of tonnes of asbestos building materials still to be removed.
Many older buildings in New Zealand still have exterior cladding with asbestos. When undisturbed, the cladding can still safely serve the building. Care must be taken, however, when replacement with new cladding is planned.
A sleeping, harmless demon
In most buildings, asbestos is a “sleeping, harmless demon” and as long as it stays compacted into walls, roofing tiles and many other types of materials, people are safe from any potential exposure. Its removal can be planned over time and within an affordable budget plan.
Having a thorough knowledge of where asbestos might exist in the home or workplace can be a matter of life or death. Especially when renovations are being considered.
Chemcare’s contractual work on all types of buildings and civil structures throughout New Zealand usually comprises the first stage of renovation work. In most cases, building owners have employed an asbestos testing service to survey the site of the renovations; asbestos will have been identified and it removal carefully and safely planned.
Licensed removal companies can also identify asbestos materials readily, but will usually require a licensed tester to also inspect the site.
Government regulations allow for property owners to undertake a small amount of removal work themselves. The conditions for this option include:
The asbestos materials to be removed are within a ten square metre area.
The asbestos within the material is “non-friable”- unlikely to become airborne.
The ten square metres includes the cumulative whole course of the removal; this means, for example, that a 100 square metre area of asbestos material cannot be removed at a rate of ten square metres a day over ten days. This becomes a service requiring a licenced remover (class B under the regulations).
Identifying asbestos in a building
If a structure was built after the year 2000, it is probably free of asbestos materials and will not need any special precautions in any demolition required before renovations take place.
Older structures, however, can have asbestos in a range of locations. These images show common locations, from top to bottom of a structure as well interior and exterior.
Some of the more common, but not complete locations in older homes and buildings, include:
Interior: old floor tiles, ceiling tiles or “sprayed” ceilings popular in the 1970s, roof shingles and flashing, wall lining, insulation around water heaters, boilers, ducts and plumbing pipes.
Exterior: Many older homes and buildings were clad in cement-based cladding usually known by a trading name, “fibrolite;” pipe cement and joint compounds as well as some underground pipes which appear to be cement-based; various types of older roof tiles.