What is Asbestos and its history?
Asbestos is the name given to a group of silicate minerals that are naturally occurring and share some common characteristics.
Asbestos was added to 1000’s of products and materials due to the following characteristics:
- High Tensile Strength
- High Temperature Resistance
- Chemically Resistant to Acids and Bases
- Non conductive to Electricity.
Asbestos has been used for nearly 4000 years and in Australia was in commercial production since the early 1900’s. It was most extensively used from the 1950’s to the 1970’s until it started to be phased out in the 1980’s. However the complete phase out of production of asbestos cement sheeting was not until the late 1980’s.
Now covered under regulations in Australia, the manufacture, supply, storage, sale, use or re-use of asbestos products is prohibited. There are however a number of countries around the world that still mine and produce items that contain asbestos.
What are the types of Asbestos?
Six types of asbestos minerals are recognised:
- Chrysotile (White Asbestos)
- Amosite (Brown Asbestos)
- Crocidolite (Blue Asbestos)
The 3 main types of asbestos commonly found in Australia are White, Brown and Blue asbestos.
What is an Asbestos Containing Material?
Asbestos Containing Materials (ACM) are products that were manufactured with the intentional use of asbestos.
These products were used for industrial, commercial and domestic purposes. It’s common for people to have seen asbestos products without realising asbestos was present. The most recognisable ACM in buildings is asbestos cement (AC) sheet. There is a range of asbestos containing building materials that could be present.
What is Friable v Non Friable Asbestos?
Asbestos containing material is described as either Friable or Non Friable.
Friable means, when dry –
(a) may be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to powder by hand pressure; or
(b) as a result of a work process becomes such that it may be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to powder by hand pressure;
Non Friable when dry cannot-
(a) be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to powder by hand pressure
Examples of Friable asbestos products include Insulation, millboard and pipe lagging
Examples of Non Friable asbestos products include AC sheet, Electrical boards, vinyl tiles and vinyl sheet
Friable asbestos products are more commonly associated with industrial sites. Non friable materials are found in both domestic and industrial environments.
What products contain asbestos?
Download our extensive list of products that contain asbestos.
What are the Health Effects of Asbestos?
Since the 1890’s, asbestos use has been linked to illness and disease of the lungs, with respirable airborne asbestos fibres being the primary source of health effects. All forms of asbestos are known to cause cancer in humans.
There are three main health effects linked to exposure to airborne asbestos:
- Pleural Plaques
- Cancers (Lung and Mesothelioma)
This condition is characterised by a hardening of the membrane (pleura) on the inside of the chest wall and outside of the lungs. The condition is not life threatening but is an indicator that the person may be at risk of developing another asbestos related disease.
Detection period generally 5 – 10 years after exposure.
Asbestosis is caused by scarring (fibrosis) on the inside of the lungs (alveoli). The scar tissue reduces the rate at which oxygen and carbon dioxide transfers to and from the bloodstream. Symptoms include shortness of breath and persistent coughing.
Detection period generally greater than 10 years after exposure.
Smokers who are exposed to airborne asbestos fibres have a greater chance of developing lung cancer. Incidence of lung cancer is up to 55 times higher for people also exposed to asbestos
Two types of Mesothelioma
Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a cancer of the membrane around the chest cavity. Symptoms include shortness of breath, weight loss, chest and lower back pain, persistent coughing and weakness.
Malignant peritoneal mesothelioma is a cancer of the membrane surrounding the abdominal cavity. Symptoms include abdominal pain or swelling, nausea, weakness and weight loss.
Both have a long detection period generally >20 years after exposure.
What can I do to keep myself safe?
Firstly, do not disturb any material thought to contain or suspected to be contaminated with asbestos.
In the event you find damaged or disturbed asbestos the immediate precautions to minimise exposure include:
- wear appropriate PPE e.g. P2 dust mask
- spraying with water to prevent dust from becoming airborne (being careful around electrical fittings).
- covering with plastic sheeting or a tarpaulin where possible, to prevent exposure to the weather or further damage.
- preventing access to the affected area by people.
- call us for professional advice on how to fix the problem.
Australian Asbestos Mining History
The following list is a summary of asbestos mining history in Australia from 1880-1976 including the state, location and asbestos type.
New South Wales
Woods Reef (Chrysotile)
Orange district (Tremolite)
Gundagai district (Actinolite)
Broken Hill district (Chrysotile)
Beaconsfield district (Chrysotile, Amphibole)
Zeehan district (Chrysotile)
Flinders Rangers (Oraparinna Station) (Chrysotile)
Truro district (Crocidolite, Tremolite)
Wittenoom Gorges (Crocidolite)
Yampire Gorge (Chrysotile)
Colonial Gorge (Chrysotile)
Bindi Bindi (Anthophyllite)
(Nevill, 1994; Imray & Neville, 1993)
At Mairin we have years of experience working with asbestos. Whether you need a sample analysed, supervision and air monitoring during removal works or a survey for the presence of asbestos, give us call on 03 5127 2311 to chat about your needs.