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Asbestos

 Situation Update: Bayfield Primary School
In May 2014, Bayfield Primary School closed after discovering that work underway had disturbed asbestos-containing materials and because of concerns that dust generated may be contaminated with asbestos. The Ministry of Education and WorkSafe NZ assisted the school to respond to parents’ concerns, including environmental and air sampling from the site. Ministry of Health officials worked with Auckland Regional Public Health Service’s Medical Officer of Health to answer a number of questions from parents. Download this information here.

What is asbestos?
White asbestos particles. Image obtained courtesy of the United States Centre for Disease Control.

Asbestos is the name for a group of minerals made up of many small fibres. It is usually only a risk to health when inhaled (breathed in) as fine dust.

If you breathe this dust in, fibres can get stuck in your lungs. The risk to health increases with the number of fibres inhaled and with frequency of exposure. Enough exposure to asbestos fibres can lead to health conditions including breathing difficulties, asbestosis and even lung cancer in severe cases.

Before it was known that asbestos can harm your health, it was a popular building material because of its exceptional insulating, fire-resistant and reinforcing properties. Many old buildings contain asbestos.

Left undisturbed, asbestos is safe – but if the asbestos is exposed or damaged, it can be harmful. This is because exposed asbestos can become airborne and may then be breathed into the lungs.

If you have asbestos in your home, talk to a health protection officer about what to do. Contact Auckland Regional Public Health Service, 09 623 4600 (available 24 hours, 7 days a week) for advice on this.

It is best to leave the asbestos undisturbed, or to seal or enclose it.

If you want to remove or seal asbestos, it’s best to have it done by a professional. Ministry of Business, Industry and Employment certified contractors are trained and equipped to do it safely.

FAQs

What are the risks from asbestos containing material?

The highest risk of exposure to asbestos in the home is through home renovating, by cutting or drilling through asbestos-cement sheeting or sanding down asbestos-containing lino or tiles. Left undisturbed, such materials pose little risk, therefore it is recommended that asbestos containing material in good condition be left alone. Generally, asbestos-containing materials that are in good condition will not release asbestos fibres. There is very little danger unless fibres are released and inhaled into lungs.

The risk from exposure to asbestos in the non-occupational setting is considered to be low since the concentrations of asbestos fibres are low.

Can asbestos cause cancer?

Asbestos is associated with asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma – which are generally associated with long term exposure over many months to years and symptoms often take 10-20 years to develop.

How do I test for asbestos?

Testing a sample in an approved analytical laboratory is the only way to find out if a material contains asbestos. If you need to get a sample tested, contact
a health protection officer at Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) (09 623 4600) who will advise you.  Do not obtain a sample without first contacting ARPHS.

What should you do if asbestos is in your home?

 If there is asbestos in your home, you should talk with an ARPHS health protection officer about:
 • Leaving it as it is,
    disturbing it as little as
    possible.
 • Sealing, encapsulating
    or enclosing it.
 • Removing it.

General Advice

The Ministry of Business, Industry and Employment provides best practice information and guidance to assist New Zealand businesses with health and safety in the workplace. Its occupational safety and health (OSH) website publishes and updates systematic guidelines and information on lead-based paint and asbestos which are available at: www.osh.govt.nz

For any concerns relating to asbestos please contact Auckland Regional Public Health Service, 09 623 4600 available 24 hours, 7 days a week) for advice.


Useful links

Resources

All about asbestos 

(HealthEd)

Removing asbestos from the home

(HealthEd)

Suspected asbestos containing materials 

(ARPHS)

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Phone 09 623 4600 Fax 09 630 7431
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