Asbestos poses hidden hazard

By Terry Lobb

DANGER: Asbestos will be present in many homes throughout New Zealand.

IT HAS been such a glorious summer and hopefully there are many more days like this before autumn kicks in.

It reminds me of summers of years gone by when we used to spend our days camping at the beach.

We are so lucky in New Zealand to have the eclectic mix of housing and as you drive through the cities and townships you see different styles of buildings everywhere.

For a country as young as New Zealand it always amazes me the subtle differences in housing styles from township to township when some of them are just a stone's throw from each other. I particularly love areas where you see rows of cottages, many of them being bought up now to renovate or have been renovated to their former glory and more.

There are hidden hazards in renovating older homes. The one I'll touch on is asbestos and I'll leave the other nasty till next week.

Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals that have been mined and used for more than 4500 years, but wasn't mined extensively until the late 19th century. All six minerals are carcinogenic to humans.

The earliest known recordings in the use of asbestos come from East Finland where pots used for cooking and utensils were strengthened with asbestos.

Asbestos has a thread-like strand not unlike wool and can be woven so the cloth appears like wool. As asbestos doesn't burn, a tablecloth could be thrown in the fire and be cleaned. (If only all our housework could be that simple).

Pliny the Elder used the term "asbestinon" which means unquenchable. He was also the first to record the health effects on slaves who wore asbestos clothing. They showed signs of respiratory problems, though this was never followed up with an examination, most likely because they were slaves and their lives were dispensable.

Other reports of health effects recorded were as recent as the late 1800s where studies were carried out on 50 dead workers who had worked with asbestos dust.

It is incredible that in 2009, two million tonnes of asbestos was still being mined worldwide.

It is interesting that we have known about the risk to our health through the use of asbestos for thousands of years but continued to mine and use it in our homes.

As I drive around New Zealand I still see asbestos roofs, they are quite distinctive and easy to recognise and occasionally I'll come across a client who has an asbestos roof.

The main area where I see asbestos is decorative ceilings and the backing under old lino. But there were other products such as some of the wall linings, fire protection products, adhesives and paints. It was widely used from the 1900s through to the '80s so it will be present in many of our homes throughout New Zealand.

Asbestos becomes a problem when it is airborne. For those unsuspecting DIYers, when you lift the lino and sand back those beautiful native timbers that is when you create the problem, the asbestos becomes sanding dust and easily inhaled. unfortunately the symptoms do not appear for many years.

In many cases in redecorating the floor has been left as is and covered over and re-lined in tiles or vinyl. If you want to floor in natural timber that is a different matter.

If you are unsure at all there are labs in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland that will test for you.

I strongly recommend that you look at the Department of Labour website and follow their guidelines before you attempt to remove any. Cutting, sanding or even water blasting will release the fibres. If you're working in your own home, make sure the area is contained, wear disposable gear as in overalls, cap and gloves. Use a respirator that has the correct dust filters for asbestos and keep the asbestos damp at all times.

Clean up and disposal is just as important. The asbestos should be sealed in a plastic bag marked "Asbestos Hazard". The area you are working on needs to be totally clean of dust and if you are vacuuming use a vacuum cleaner with the correct filters. Contact your local council for the designated dumping area. If this all sounds too much and you don't want the hassle get a registered person in to remove it safely.

How do you recognise it?

The asbestos I have come across under vinyl was grey with a sparkle and was very brittle.

If you have any questions about issues discussed or product supply give me a call on 0276023298 or drop me a line on

- Wanganui Chronicle

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