Asbestos is a fibrous mineral found in metamorphic rocks and soils. The strength, insulating and fire-proofing properties of this mineral made it a popular and widely used material in the building industry between the 1940s and 1980s.
Where it’s Found
Asbestos, though no longer generally used today, can be found in a range of pre-existing materials common in homes and commercial buildings, including:
- Roof shingles.
- Building boards.
- Flat and corrugated sheeting.
- Asbestos cement cladding.
- Textured paint.
- Ceiling coatings.
- Floor tiles.
- Linoleum backing.
The fibrous nature of asbestos can pose a serious health risk. If asbestos containing material (ACM) becomes broken, crumbly or is handled incorrectly it can release minute fibres into the air. If these fibres are inhaled, life-threatening illnesses such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma may occur.
No safe minimum level of exposure to asbestos fibres has been identified. Therefore, all contact with asbestos dust should be avoided.
Although the effects of airborne asbestos fibres are frightening, it should be noted that “non-friable” or “bonded” asbestos containing materials (i.e. those which are not crumbly and in which the asbestos fibres are firmly bound or sealed) are not considered to pose a health risk.
ACM which is in good condition, unbroken, and well sealed and is in an area of the home that is not prone to impact or abrasion may be deemed relatively safe.
Given the risks associated with asbestos fibres, removing asbestos containing material from your home is a task best left to a professional asbestos removal contractor. In fact the Ministry of Health recommends that Department of Labour certified contractors be used.
However, if you choose to remove that nasty ACM yourself, it is essential for the safety of your family that you follow certain guidelines in workplace preparation, working practices, disposal and clean-up.
- Clear the workplace of all items, furniture, people and pets. Ensure the area will remain undisturbed for the duration of the asbestos removal and clean-up process and post warning signs at all points of entry.
- Cover all surfaces, apart from those you intend to work on, with plastic sheeting fixed with industrial strength adhesive tape.
- Close all windows and doors and seal with tape.
- Switch off all ventilation, humidity control and air conditioning devices and seal their openings.
- Turn off the electricity and seal all outlet sockets.
- Wet the area to be worked on. Wetting reduces the propensity of asbestos fibres to become airborne. Adding detergent to the water will improve its ability to capture asbestos fibres. Use a low pressure spray for wetting, never use a water-blaster or similar high pressure device.
- Wear a full suit of disposable overalls, including gloves and hood.
- Wear a full-face respiratory mask with a P1-P2 dust respirator.
- Do not eat, drink or smoke while working with asbestos.
- Create a safe rest area away from the workplace for meal breaks – protective clothing must be removed and hands and face washed before entering this area.
- Male workers should be clean-shaven.
- Do not use power tools as these will create asbestos dust – use hand tools instead.
- Do not sand ACM – this will release asbestos fibres.
- Avoid sawing or using abrasive cutting disks on asbestos sheeting, cladding etc. as this will create asbestos dust.
- Take care when handling ACM as it can break easily.
- Bag waste material as you work, don’t build up large exposed piles of dangerous asbestos containing material.
- Stack asbestos sheeting carefully, rubbing one sheet against another will release dust.
Disposal and Clean-Up
- Bag waste in polyethylene bags made specifically for holding asbestos waste. Label bags with a clear indication that they contain asbestos. Do not fully fill bags – this will reduce the risk of tearing. Seal bags with adhesive tape.
- Wipe down all exposed surfaces with a damp cloth to collect dust.
- Dispose of all cleaning materials, plastic sheeting, adhesive tape and disposable protective clothing in your waste bags.
- Vacuum the area with a vacuum which has been fitted with a HEPA filter. Dispose of the vacuum bag in your waste bags.
- Ventilate the area well.
- Shower and wash hair immediately work is completed.
Is it a Job for You?
Although, by adhering to the safe work practices outlined in this article, it is possible for the amateur to remove asbestos containing material, the job is difficult, demands scrupulous attention to safety, and requires the purchase of protective materials and clothing. Health & Safety training organisations also often have online courses on how to work safely with asbestos, especially in the workplace.
Working in a full-face mask and body suit is not the most pleasant experience and most home owners would be well advised to follow the Ministry of Health’s recommendation to hire an experienced and licensed contractor to perform the work.
To learn more about asbestos removal check out this video.